FOR THE Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost we hear again from Saint Mark concerning a behavioral tradition challenged by Jesus. The topic of conversation concerned adherence to a human religious habit founded by some for pious justifications, over against the heartfelt doings of the will of God. Therefore we respectfully read...
And he (Jesus) called the people to him again, and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.”
And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
And he said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mark 7:14-23)
What May We Eat?
As Christians who have been taught to look at scripture for the dialectic tension maintained between the Law and the Gospel, we read that our lectionary menu supplied seems to have items listed numerously beneath the left Law column. These are items that condemn us, and yet only one thing artfully hidden lay within the right reading of the Gospel. This causes us great remorse, for we thus may easily find ourselves dining on sour grapes.
Note here that the disciples, and in particular those within Mark’s church that had incorporated many Gentiles around them, found themselves adapting their diet to include foods that were not ritually kosher in the Jewish cookery. Not only did many disciples eat with ritually unclean hands, they would eat such horrid things as delicious pork chops, lobster and squid… such items forbidden that may even cost a lot of money today for any family dining in a favorite modern restaurant.
Thankfully, according to Mark, Jesus cleared up our dietary confusion. He said that to be defiled so that one was unacceptable before God, was not a matter of what a person ate… but rather that our spiritual condition depended on what one accomplished in daily life. That dietary news came across favorably to those in the early church who were not Jews keeping kosher ritual. It was also good news for such as a contestant of a recent TV series “Alone”, who recently had to whip up a meal of slugs and seaweed in order to survive. It is astounding what the impoverished must find to eat from the dumpsters of our sinful world. But does that which we may find to eat in the physical world, carry us safely across the threshold of the spiritual realm?
What Should We Do?
The trouble for us becomes evident as our Lord addressed that which comes out of a man. Jesus basically said that what spiritually comes out is like smelly defecation which makes us want to place our outhouse far from the homestead. Now for me, this egregious thought rolling around in my head struck hard on my nose like being downwind of the privy. Indeed, the mental picture was so pungent to them then, that as the later gospel of Matthew was written some twenty years later, the scribe tried to lessen the impact. Matthew related that our Lord said…
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matthew 15:10-11)
Thus it was even the early church winced beneath the smell of sin, so that they emphasized a dirty mouth. So too we should blanch at the menu of condemnations. You see, our behavior stinks like sour incense before God no matter which end of the worm you bite down on. Just examine the list! The menu of moral degradations condemns each and every one of us… whether Jew, Gentile, Roman, Greek, Russian, Oriental, African or American. Our Lord Jesus stated that these things come from the sinful, corrupted hearts of all humanity. By the time the list is completely read, we together possess a distinct urge to push back… away from the table. But it is too late! We are already condemned. What then shall we do? Where shall we go? What may we offer? To whom shall we cry to pay the check and save us?
Take note here that the lesson then reveals to us the hidden one, a servant (in the Greek word “doulos” ), He stands very near. The steady and pure holy Servant, who is the Son of God… is the very one who has stood by us through the Spirit to teach us today. It is the Holy Spirit that has revealed the menu for our perusal. The Spirit tells us that like a patient waiter in your favorite Chinese restaurant, Jesus waits for you to choose between those sweet and sour sinful items on the left, or the singular saving item on the Right. If we choose as driven by the Holy Spirit… we find ourselves sitting at a wondrous, eternal table, where blessed Saint Paul reminds…
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
(1 Corinthians 11:23-28)
Therefore, people of God… examine your hearts. For indeed hidden in, with and under the bread and wine that we consume in the holy meal of the Eucharist is the One who presents the gospel... that is the “Good News”. He is the holy Servant who wrapped a towel around his waist and washed our feet, preparing us for this wondrous dinner. Jesus Christ, our Lord, Teacher and Savior, has given us the food which is his body and blood. He thus provided forgiveness for us and informs of renewed mission. Most certainly, his menu empowers us for proclamations of grace, so that what comes out of our mouths is as sweet smelling incense burned before the altar of God. This is that gospel that saves, that which needs to be bountifully shared as it comes from the heart of the church.