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 honors 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 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." 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 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
'It is from the human heart that evil intensions come.'
While Jesus was not advocating an abolishment of the law (Matthew 5:17-20) he wasn't fooled either by its supposed safeguards. Megan McKenna writes, “Mark wants to emphasize exactly what Jesus is teaching - inward devotion is much holier than any outward appearance of obedience to rules.” (p. 98, On Your Mark: Reading Mark in the Shadow of the Cross.)
“In this encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus acts as teacher, trying to explain what is important and why the laws existed in the first place. Rigid adherence to a law can ignore a crucial call for the conversion of heart and practice. Jesus was very clear: no law was to be used to exclude another person, and no law was to override compassion, forgiveness, and a welcoming inclusion into the community.” (p.97)
Meditation Three echos this last thought. But to get there, an appreciation of law is helpful (meditation one) tempered with the powerful image of spring thaw and waking to truth (meditation two).
From my heart to yours, Suzanne
bee skeps,Tancuinum Sanitatis, detail
Meditation One (Introit) Sweeter Than Honey To My Mouth
Oh, how I love you law! all the day long it is in my mind. Your commandment has made me wiser than my enemies, and it is always with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my study. I am wiser than the elders, because I observe your commandments. I restrain my feet from every evil way, that I may keep your word. I do not shrink from your judgments, because you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste! they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.
-Psalm 119:97-103 trans. American Book of Common Prayer
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Some go to bathe at holy places-- With hearts impure and faculties false. As one part of impurity they wash, twice more freshly stick to them. They washed themselves outside; inside they are full of deadly poison. The pure in soul are pure even without ritual bathing; The wicked will be wicked in all ritual performances.
Adi Granth, Var Suhi, M.1, p. 789 Sikh
Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? who may abide upon your holy hill? Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart. There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to his friend; he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor. In his sight the wicked is rejected, but he honors those who fear the Lord. He has sworn to do no wrong and does not take back his word. He does not give him money in hope of gain, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things shall never be overthrown.
Honey, Tacuinum Sanitatis, c.1370-1400
Harvesting Honey, Tacuinum Sanitatis, c.1390-1400
Meditation Two (Insight) The Human Heart Can Go the Lengths of God
The human heart can go the lengths of God. Cold and dark we may be, but this Is no winter now. The frozen misery Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move; The thunder is the thunder of the floes. The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring. Thank God, our time is now when wrong Comes up to face us everywhere, Never to leave till we take The longest stride of soul men ever took.
Affairs are now soul-size. The enterprise Is exploration into God.
What are you making for? It takes So many thousand years to wake, But will you wake for pity's sake?
– Christopher Fry 1907-2005 (excerpt from the play, A Sleep of Prisoners)
Meditation Three (Integration) Shattering Boundaries
I've found it humbling to ask what "outcasts" do I sanctimoniously spurn as impure, unclean, dirty, contaminated, and, in my mind, far from God. The mentally ill, people who have married three or four times, wealthy executives, welfare recipients, people who hold conservative political opinions, or maybe people with AIDS? How have I distorted the self-sacrificing, egalitarian love of God into self-serving, exclusionary elitism? What boundaries do I wrongly build or might I bravely shatter? I pray to experience what (Marcus) Borg calls a "community shaped not by the ethos and politics of purity, but by the ethos and politics of compassion."
What is the use of your matted hair, O witless man? What is the use of your antelope skin garment? Within, you are full of passions; without, you embellish yourself [with the paraphernalia of an ascetic].
-Dhammapada 394 Buddhist
When I was four or five years old I was playing outside with kittens on a farm belonging to our Michigan relatives. Twilight turned to night and the only light came from the kitchen window. One of the kittens scratched me. I was so angry I grabbed the kitten and ran into the darkness and threw it down the well.
Fortunately, the well had a cover on it. That evening, and for days and years afterward, I thought about how it was possible that I'd almost killed a kitten. Even before I went to kindergarten I discovered the evil just beneath the surface of my good little girl self.
As an adult I learned I am capable of murder. Once, had there been a gun in the house, I would have used it. Like throwing the kitten in the well, this event awakened me to a self-reflection on how dehumanized I had become, which led to a painful reclamation of my own life, (getting help and getting healthy made things worse) and a subsequent divorce, which many people ironically thought was a terrible sin. I think true evil is being caught between two evils and having to acquiesce to one of them.
It doesn't take much to awaken the demons inside. A wise bunch of folks I know use the acronym HALT to discern the source of emotions getting out of hand. Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? And usually just a quick check and a good laugh at myself solves the problem before I do any great damage to myself or anyone else. Another great phrase to meditate upon is “Holding on to resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
I'm a monster when my blood sugar is off. I'm mean when I'm de-hydrated. I hallucinate when I'm sleep deprived for too long. I'm generally well fed, watered, and rested, living a charmed life in charming California. But it doesn't take much for the 'evil intentions' to come out when my chemistry is off.
I'm not at all shocked when Jesus says, “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. 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."
All these things cower just below the surface of a good life. If you don't think so, ask yourself what shadows of evil are you projecting onto other people or vulnerable populations? Who do you hate? And why? If you do not know that you are capable of evil, it is much more likely that you'll act upon it.