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)
Jesus was continuing his conversation with the Scribes and the Pharisees after their criticism that Jesus’ disciples ate their meals with ritually unwashed hands.
The Scribes had determined that in order for someone to be pleasing to God they needed to obsess about ritual impurity, washing their hands twice with one-and-a-half egg shells full of water, and washing pots, jugs, beds, themselves and any other thing that had touched Gentiles or things not consecrated to the Lord. Jesus yesterday called them hypocrites because the word hypocrite means actor and they were, frankly, just pretending to be faithful to God, substituting human precepts for God’s word and will.
Today Jesus extended the conversation to something that would have astonished the disciples, something that would have been totally revolutionary. He said, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”
What does make us impure before God? Jesus says it’s “the things that come out from within,” and then he defines them: “Evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.”
Jesus leaves us no wiggle room when he warns us against behaviors that can sully our soul and separate us from the Father. However, by our power of rationalization we humans fall prey to these sins, and others besides.
The most effective way of having this scripture truly affect us is to recognize that we are all Pharisees. Now, there is nothing wrong with hand-washing. Hand-washing is a good thing. And there is no reason to believe that Jesus was opposed to hand-washing. But hand-washing was not as important as the weightier issues of the law.
So let us go back to the main point and let us do so in personal terms. When do we become fixated on the details and ignore the substance? When do we focus on the things that are not that important and ignore what is essential? Do we judge people on how they look instead of who they are? Do we worry about flag burning, but ignore the larger issues of justice in our country? Do we become upset because our son gets a tattoo but ignore the quality of his character? Are we attentive to the details of the words we say in church but are deaf to the cry of the poor? Any time we focus on the details but ignore the substance, we fall under Jesus’ criticism of hypocrisy.
Words are important. But if words do not lead to actions, they become empty and valueless. Of course, the movement from words to action is often a difficult one. But here is the good news: our actions are not dependent only on our own courage and willpower. We believe that God works with us and through us as we act to make a difference in our world.
Let each of us open our hearts to receive the word that God has planted within us. Let us pray that we may be able by God’s grace to worship God not only with our lips but with our hearts and be disciples not only in words but in actions—actions that make a difference in our lives and in our world.
Prayer of The Day
Lord Jesus, how I want to have a heart like yours! A heart with one desire: to do the will of your Father, to glorify Him, and to love all of humanity! Your heart is the purest of all hearts. My heart is wayward, and I can see by the way I act, by what comes out of my mouth, that I need your grace. Today I choose to let you transform my heart. “
Jesus’ whole mission was to heal our heart, to take away the hearts that become stony through sin and restore a heart that is pure, a heart that trusts God, a heart that says yes, a heart that treasures God’s word and seeks to conform itself to God’s infinite goodness. Regardless of where our heart is right now, God wants to help us draw closer to him, to allow him to heal whatever parts of our heart that might give rise to evil, lustful, greedy, malicious, deceitful, envious, arrogant, and foolish thoughts and deeds, and to thank Him for all the goodness he has given and to enter into communion, not with evil, but with the God who is goodness incarnate.