Rev. Eric Elley is the Digital Minister for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.
Scripture: Mark 7:1-23 (NRSV)
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.’
Reflection: Pure Hearts
This week I found myself more interested in what the lectionary reading skipped. I know that the main theme of Jesus’ disagreement with the scribes and Pharisees has been captured by the lectionary and I appreciate the interest in keeping the reading relatively brief, but there are still some gems that have been overlooked by those who selected what’s in and what’s left out. For example, just after Jesus’ remark that all foods move through the body and eliminate the same way into the sewer, Mark notes “thus [Jesus] declared that all foods are clean [Mark 7:19b.]”
The Hebrews of Jesus’ day practiced dietary laws set out in Leviticus 11. The dietary codes determined what foods were ritually unclean and thus forbidden. The dietary laws, grounded in food safety and hygiene, were also a way for the people to live out the truth that they were set apart to be a holy people.
As we can see from the part of chapter 7 the lectionary skips, Mark does not show much concern for those traditional Jewish dietary laws. But all of chapter 7 shows that Mark has a great deal of concern about the purity of one’s intentions. Therefore Mark writes if you aren’t observing dietary laws for a pure reason, you might as well just forget about it and treat all foods the same. But what if you kept to a special diet for pure reasons of the heart? Then your diet would mean very much to Mark – and to Jesus!
Thomas Merton from the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani prayed, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” In the same way, I believe dietary laws coming out from a heart that desires to please God do, in fact, please God, and I admire our Jewish and Muslim siblings who live out their heart’s desire to please God through their diet.
When we think about it, the choices we make about food can be among the most important spiritual decisions that spring from our hearts. For example, meat production is a major driver of greenhouse gases, emitting nearly 10% of the globe’s annual total. The raising of animals for food is the largest consumer of water and a leading cause of deforestation and loss of biodiversity in the world. The FDA estimates that 2/3 of all antibiotic use in the USA goes to meat production, increasing the specter of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And I personally happen to believe that the consumption of meat, due to factory farming methods and the slaughter of animals, is one of the greatest causes of preventable suffering in the world.
For those fellow Christians who make vegetarianism or veganism their personal dietary law out of the intentions of a pure heart, I believe that their dietary expression of faith does in fact please God. And I think that matters very much to Jesus and would to Mark, too.
When Mark adds his parenthetical commentary, “thus [Jesus] declared all foods clean,” Mark is inviting us to ground our ethical choices in a pure heart first and foremost. Only what comes out of a pure heart can guide what goes into our mouths and ought to guide every aspect our lives. For the Christian, our first steps in walking an ethical walk are a journey into purifying our own hearts.
God, help us to appreciate even the littlest of creatures as we care for the world. All are welcome in your house, and we must remember to show our love to all your creation. Amen
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at email@example.com
Prayers of Intercession:
- For the victims and their families of the 446 mass shootings already carried out in 2021
- For the children and families starting school this month as Covid-19 cases surge and safety becomes a concern once again
- For the people of Afghanistan as tensions continue in that nation
- For those in the SNE Conference and our neighbors impacted by Tropical Storm Henri
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the joy of creating new friends and forming new community
This Week in History:
August 27, 1976 (45 years ago) Athlete Renée Richards is barred from competing as a women in the U.S. Open tennis tournament by the U.S. Tennis Association after the organization required her to take a chromosome test. Richards, a transgender woman who braved gender affirming surgery the prior year, failed the test. She fought the ruling in court, and the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 1977. Richards continued to play until 1981 when she retired at age 47.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”