Jesus summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” When he got home away from the crowd his disciples questioned him about the parable. He said to them, “Are even you likewise without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?” (Thus, he declared all foods clean.) “But what comes out of the man that is what defiles him. From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” (Mark 7:14-23)
In our Gospel today, Jesus criticized a portion of his own community for paying God lip service, exalting human precepts, abandoning divine commandments. Like a beam of laser light, he cut through to the real issue: their hearts are far from God.
He provoked this confrontation to provide Him with an opportunity to give a true understanding of the kind of cleanliness that is necessary for us to have a true relationship with God –the kind of uncleanness that damages that relationship. This has little or nothing to do with ritual physical cleanliness, whether that be of our bodies or our cooking utensils. Still less should we make a display of meticulously observing such traditions. We may impress other people, but certainly not God.
He wants us to get back to the basics of truthful worship of God. He cuts through the forest of minute rules and regulations and reveals the whole purpose of God’s law . . . to protect and foster love for God and each other. Good law should provide a framework in which love can grow. Bad law stifles real love.
When you think about it, Christians have an entire set of devotionals — the Lord’s Prayer and the Great Litany, rosaries and revivals, Prayer Book and Hymnal, icons and incense, Bible study and Sunday school, silent retreats and Cursillo reunions, holy water and holy rolling, giving thanks at a birth and praying at a death — the entire apparatus of Christian devotion, in its diversity and complexity, serves one great, overarching purpose . . .. to help gain and maintain a new heart, a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone, a heart that is alive not dead, a heart that is compassionate not selfish, a heart that is large, not small, a heart that is hospitable not judgmental.
That’s why Inner purity is far more important than outward cleanliness. What really matters is the way we think, our inmost desires and longings. These lead to the way we behave. With dirty hands we can have a good relationship with God –but not with a dirty mind. That’s not confined to lustful thoughts and desires, but includes malicious, spiteful longings, a refusal to apologize or forgive, an arrogant contempt for other people. It’s far more worthwhile and demanding to keep a guard on our thoughts and desires than to be scrupulous in washing our hands and cooking utensils.
During this pandemic, we spend a lot of time on our physical hygiene. Wearing masks, washing our hands, social distancing . . . all well and good. But before, during and after the pandemic, we should focus on our spiritual hygiene being sure that our inner life matches our exterior life, that our hearts become larger; more compassionate. That’s the kind of cleanliness that’s essential to our having a good relationship with God. That’s inner, not external purity. Only then is cleanliness next to godliness.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, let the fire of your Holy Spirit cleanse my mind and my heart that I may love you purely and serve you worthily”.
Jesus refers his followers to the prophecy of Isaiah (29:31) where the prophet accuses the people of his day for honoring God with their lips while their hearts went astray because of disobedience to God’s laws.
If we listen to God’s word with faith and reverence, it will both enlighten our mind and purify our heart – thus enabling us to better understand how he wants us to love and obey him. The Lord invites us to draw near to him and to feast at his banquet table. Do you approach with a clean heart and mind? Ask the Lord to cleanse and renew you with the purifying fire of his Holy Spirit.