I love M&Ms. That is, I did before I was diagnosed with diabetes back in 1998. That pretty much quelled my M&M consumption, which I have to admit was nothing to sneeze at. After all, what’s not to love about M&M’s? Candy goodness on the outside, and even better candy goodness on the inside. I must say I was partial to the peanut ones … and all I can say is throw a peanut into the M&M, and I’m convinced that Jesus had to make those part of the finishing touch of the five loaves and two fish miracle He performed. Okay, perhaps I’m overreaching there.
As a result of my reading this week through Matthew 22 – 25, I have to admit that I had visions of M&M’s dancing through my head. But not for the reasons you’d think. A specific section of Matthew, namely 23:27-28, stuck out to me as something to share … here it is …
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Obviously, Jesus wasn’t exactly giving the Pharisees, the religious leaders of their time, a pat on the back. Throughout the chapter, Jesus is rebuking the religious leaders for their shortcomings and their motives and intentions … which fully undermined any leadership they may have possessed in position or in some apparently unobserved actions. While Jesus cites a number of offenses the Pharisees were guilty of, both on the surface and below it, the depth of this particular pair of verses hits the key vein, and I think provides us a little admonition we can put to important use in the here and now.
As I pointed out earlier, my fixation with M&Ms has a long history. It’s anchored not so much by the candy goodness on the outside, because frankly to me, that’s just a barrier I have to work through to get to the really important part … what’s inside. Especially when you consider the peanut variety. I remember growing up that certain people liked the red M&Ms more than, say, the brown ones, or the special colors that would be marketed around Easter or Christmas. To me, it was just the outer shell, and it didn’t really have taste regardless of the color. It didn’t matter what color the outside was or how it was decorated. Importantly, it was what was inside that counted.
Now what if, instead of chocolaty and / or peanuty goodness was inside (and I do note that there are and have been a variety of M&M offerings that have peanut butter or other yummy fillings … it only makes my point all the stronger), something less scrumptious was inside? Say, inside that outer shell of candy goodness was … paprika. Now, I don’t want to disrespect any paprika fans out there, but I have to imagine we’d all be unanimous in our deploring M&M outer shells covering paprika insides. Or, what if there were an inside of ground-up bird feathers? Sound appetizing? Not so much.
I think you get my point.
The take-home point … the outside might matter, but it pales in comparison to the inside. Moreover, no matter how great the outside might be, it can’t overcome and offensively grotesque inside.
Jesus’s point exactly.
I’ve noted before that the Pharisees, while the religious leaders of their time, were a shallow hypocritical lot. I’m sure there must have been some that were more devoted, more faithful, more authentic than others, but as a group, they had abused their power so much, and were so self-centered that they diluted any potential effectiveness as religious leaders they may have sought to demonstrate. They did a lot of good-looking things; they said a lot of important-sounding things; they strode around with an authoritative air; but in the end they did it to diminish, rather than exalt, the immensity of God’s grace and love.
Outside they were authoritative and impressive, inside (their hearts … where Jesus could readily see and assess) they were bankrupt. Outside they were candy goodness … inside they were paprika and ground-up bird feathers.
God looks at the inside. He looks at our hearts. We can be and do anything on the surface level, but if what’s inside is destroyed and empty, nothing else matters. How do we know and see the difference? Jesus speaks in great detail through Matthew and the other Gospels, but in the end it comes down to love, which is manifested in how we treat others and how we sacrifice ourselves.
Perhaps one poignant reminder is found in another passage in Matthew that I read this week … in Matthew 22:37-40 …
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Our actions aren’t always the key to determining the condition of our heart, but the condition of our hearts will result in our actions. If we want to change our behaviors, we have to change our hearts. But only God can change our hearts. So, by extension, if we want to change our behaviors, we have to let God change our heart. That means allowing Him into our heart, allowing Him to take control, allowing Him to reign and rule. It means us letting go of control.
Where in each of us are the areas of candy-covered paprika and ground-up bird feathers? To some degree, we all have those areas. They’re areas where we say one thing, and do another; where we preach and don’t practice our faith; where we expect others to do things we won’t or don’t; areas where we use our faith, position, power or whatever to abuse others, even in seemingly minor ways; areas where we betray the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus by robbing others of seeing it, experiencing it, or having it. Prayerfully, let’s ask God to reveal to us our paprika and ground-up bird feathers, and to replace those with chocolatey and peanuty goodness. Let’s ask Him to convert the inside to the delightfully tasty goodness that He intended there to be in the first place. The chocolate and peanuts. Yum!
Inside AND outside,