Mark 7: 1 – 22
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles. So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’ Then he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, “Honour your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.” But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban” (that is, an offering to God)— then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.’ 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.’
The 1995 romantic-comedy The American President opens with the US Commander-in-Chief being told that Lewis, his speechwriter, wants to see him. “Well, it wouldn’t be a Monday morning unless Lewis was concerned about something I did Sunday night,” quips the president, before the lift doors open, and Lewis accuses him of cutting a paragraph from a speech.
It’s Monday morning again – are we concerned about anything we said or left unsaid on Sunday night? For some of us, it might be a harsh word spat out in frustration during an awkward conversation at church. For others, it might be an unguarded comment that slipped out after a glass of wine or a pint of beer.
Then there are the things we didn’t say, the paragraphs we cut from our own personal speeches, the words we could feel the Holy Spirit nudging us to share, but which got stuck in our throats.
“Whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile… it is what comes out of a person that defiles,” Jesus said. “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.”
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus’s harshest words are reserved for hypocrites: “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Words matter, perhaps now more than at any other time in the church’s 2,000-year history. Two or three generations have passed since many families engaged with the Church. We now need to reexamine the words we use to help communicate God’s love to the world.
Our focus must shift from teaching human precepts and holding on to human traditions, and instead replace them with words about God’s inclusive and overwhelming doctrine of love.
The words we’ve used in days gone by are now unlikely to be suitable for a poster on the church’s noticeboard or a post on the church’s Facebook page. Finding the right words can be tough, but Jesus gives us a model to follow, by focusing on words of love.
God of the Word and of the words,
please forgive us when we defile ourselves
with evil intentions from our hearts,
when cruel words slip from our lips.
Help us to forgive each other when we cause hurt with our words.
Instead, please fill us with the words we need to share your love
with our families and friends, our neighbours and enemies.
In the name of Christ, Amen.