Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A clean heart is a free heart

The means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. – Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929 – 1968 American Civil Rights Leader)

Gospel Text: (Mark 7:14-23)
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.

In the 1997 movie As Good As It Gets, a popular New York City author of romance novels named Marvin Udall, played so well by actor Jack Nicholson, has an obsession with cleanliness, with a compulsive daily hand washing ritual. His medicine cabinet is jam-packed with bars of soap. During his daily hand-washing, he goes through several bars of soap, and then rinses his hands in blistering hot water. He is now clean. He touches no one, and no one touches him.

There's something else about Mr. Udall. He takes pleasure in insulting everyone with whom he comes in contact. What's more, he is the worst of listeners. He tunes out to anyone or anything that may contaminate his world. From his typewriter, Mr. Udall writes passionately about love. Yet sadly, from his heart he spews garbage. A powerful parable, this movie.

This parable, however, has been told before - by Jesus. Some Pharisees, who carefully, even obsessively, observed the purification rituals of washing of hands and avoiding ritually unclean foods, criticized the disciples of Jesus. Could Jesus not see that there were violating traditions of cleanliness mandated by the Torah? The purpose of these rituals, spelled out in the Book of Leviticus, was to instill an awareness of God's holiness and love for his people. Yet sadly, from their hearts, these Pharisees spewed legalism and barriers to fellowship with God.

Jesus knew that even the best intentions can become corrupted. Sometimes rituals can become substitutes for faithfulness to God while our hearts remain filthy by sin. "There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile," Jesus declares. To whom does he speak? He speaks to the Pharisees, to Mr. Udall, but most of all, to us.

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