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Mark 7:14-23

The Word of God

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile." When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, "Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

Mark 7:14-23
  • Some thoughts on today's scripture

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    • This must be one of the most easily understood and down-to-earth of the teachings of Jesus. It echoes the words of one of the prophets several hundred years earlier. “The heart is more devious than any other thing, and is depraved; who can pierce its secrets? I, the Lord, search the heart, test the motives, to give each person what his conduct deserves” Jeremiah (17: 9-10).
    • King David left us a beautiful consoling prayer that we can make our own: “A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence nor deprive me of your Holy Spirit” Psalm 50 (51). His prayer was favorably answered. So will ours.
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    • In this earthy passage Jesus is teaching me that what matters is the state of my heart. Is my heart in good shape? Doctors may worry about an enlarging of my heart, but from a Christian point of view, the enlarging of my heart is the best thing that can happen me! This is because God’s chosen task is to make me grow in love, until my capacity for loving matches that of Jesus. Lord, don’t let me instead suffer cardiac arrest!
    • What comes out of my heart? Am I seen as warm-hearted, forgiving, compassionate, and large-hearted? Is the world better for my being around? Lord, batter my heart until you get it into shape, as the poet John Donne puts it.
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    • Lord, don’t let me laugh at the Pharisees and their silly customs. Let me look to myself: do I make my choices the way the advertisers want me to? Do I let the spin-doctors decide what I think? Am I predictable, caught in a rut, dull of soul?
    • The kingdom of God is always unexpected; it catches me by surprise and demands responses from me that jolt me out of my mediocrity. Its values are counter-cultural. There the poor come first; despised people are important; wealth is for sharing; hatred is out; forgiveness is in; love is all that matters in the end. Wow!
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    • Jesus again warns us against performing actions for the sake of keeping up appearances. On the contrary, what always counts is the inner motivation: often not the external ‘good act’ – but the reason that prompts me to do it.
    • The actions in themselves are just as irrelevant as the body’s eliminations. But what matters by comparison is - what movement of heart is directing them? It is the intention behind them, that I must always be ready to examine.
    • It seems that in the days of Jesus, there were people who could be scrupulous about which foods were ‘kosher’ – but who could fail to examine urges of their wayward heart towards crime, deviousness, pride.
    • "Blessed are the pure of heart", announced Jesus. (Matthew 5:8) By contrast, the strictness and purity of one’s ritual observance matters little.
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    • Mark is making clear to his gentile (non-Jewish) Christian community that to be a follower of Jesus Christ does not require the observance of a multiplicity of Jewish ritual ablutions.
    • I am not defiled, separated from God, by externals, such as the kinds of food I eat, but by the sins of the heart, evil intentions and sinful actions.
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    • For Jesus, the battlefield between good and evil is the human heart, and my heart is included! How clean is my heart? In Psalm 51 I ask God to create in me a clean heart. It is not something I can do on my own, much as I try to be respectable before I meet with God in prayer.
    • We know the difference between clean and sticky fingers, and our hearts can be sticky too. We can be grasping, we can spoil things for others, and leave our smudge on them. We can make things difficult for others, humiliate them, reduce them to tears. We can strip them of their pathetic shreds of self-protection.
    • Lord, you list twelve ‘evil intentions’ that defile a person. Reveal to me the one I need to address right now!
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    • Jewish tradition held that some foods were clean and others unclean. Jesus says that all foods are clean. What matters, he says, is the heart! By ‘the heart’ he meant what is inside us: moods, thoughts, plans, attitudes, choices, conscience, knowledge and love. All these must be kept clean.
    • Lord, you see into my heart. A pure heart create in me. Take away my heart of stone, and give me a heart of flesh, so that I may become as compassionate as you are.
  • Some thoughts on today's scripture

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    • Jesus called the crowd again. This lesson about the heart has to be repeated and stressed. Good manners and proper behaviour vary from group to group. But the underlying goodness or badness crosses all social divides. That is what we look to.
    • These sayings of Jesus would strike his listeners as paradoxical or strange. In Jewish culture, concerned as it was about food laws, just the opposite of what Jesus says would seem to be true: the eating of certain foods such as pork causes ritual defilement. Scholars wonder whether Jesus did in fact say, as Mark claims, that all foods are clean. If Jesus was clear on this point, why were there so many hard-fought struggles in the early Church over kosher foods as are to be found in Saint Paul's writings and in the Acts of the Apostles?
    • I recognise that I am surrounded by so much that is good and I give thanks. I realise that good things sometimes distract me from the source of all goodness and I ask for forgiveness.
    • I think of my words and actions and pray that what comes out of me brings goodness to others.