While we were in Myrtle Beach, and a few weeks before that while we were hiking some beautiful waterfall trails in North Carolina, I couldn’t help but notice all the mess that people had left behind. Even in these beautiful places, people still didn’t have the common sense to pick up their trash. And as I reflected on that thought, I came across the following devotional from Our Daily Bread.
“Could they not carry their own garbage this far?” I grumbled to Jay as I picked up empty bottles from the beach and tossed them into the trash bin less than 20 feet away. “Did leaving the beach a mess for others make them feel better about themselves? I sure hope these people are tourists. I don’t want to think that any locals would treat our beach with such disrespect.”
The very next day I came across a prayer I had written years earlier about judging others. My own words reminded me of how wrong I was to take pride in cleaning up other people’s messes. The truth is, I have plenty of my own that I simply ignore, especially in the spiritual sense. I am quick to claim that the reason I can’t get my life in order is because others keep messing it up. And I am quick to conclude that the “garbage” stinking up my surroundings belongs to someone other than me. But neither is true. Nothing outside of me can condemn or contaminate me, only what’s inside (Matt. 15:19-20). The real garbage is the attitude that causes me to turn up my nose at a tiny whiff of someone else’s sin while ignoring the stench of my own.
Forgive me, Lord, for refusing to throw away my own “trash.” Open my eyes to the damage that pride does. May I have no part of it. Most of us are farsighted about sin, we see the sins of others but not our own. “Matthew 15:19-20 says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts . . . . These are what defile a person.””
In today’s passage, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, a group of the religious elite in Israel. They taught that obeying the law was the most important thing, so they emphasized external behavior. Jesus called attention to the condition of the heart and basically said to them, “It doesn’t matter if you do everything right. If your heart is bad, you are still defiled.”