Deut 4:1-2, 6-8; Jas 1:17-18,21-22 Mark 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23
Late in the evening, the young Jew knocked at the door and asked as an elderly man opened the door. “Sir, what time is it?” The old Jew just stared at him and did not answer. “Sir, forgive me for disturbing you at this time,” said the young Jew, “but I really want to know what time it is. I have to find a place to sleep.” The old Jew said, “Son, the inn on the next street is the only one in this small city. I don’t know you, so you must be a stranger. If I answer you now, according to our Jewish tradition, I must invite you to my home. You’re handsome and I have a beautiful daughter. You will both fall in love and you’ll want to get married. And tell me, why would I want a son-in-law who can’t even afford a watch?”
Dear friends! Last 6 weeks we reflected together on chapter 6 of St. John’s gospel. We return to the gospel of Mark again. It’s obvious that Mark was writing for his Gentiles, in that he had to explain a number of Jewish customs. We all know it is a good idea to wash our hands before we eat, but in Jesus’ day, failure to do so made a person a sinful person according to the Pharisees. It was not a written law found in the bible, but a tradition.
Often their traditions contradicted the written law of God and Jesus didn’t hesitate to point that out to his adversaries. In the concluding line in today’s gospel, Jesus states that what a person eats does not make that person unholy, but it’s what comes out of one’s heart that makes us unholy.
In education we attach more importance to the head than to the heart. Indeed, the heart hardly gets a look in. We make more of a cleaver child than of a good child. The world of business and politics rewards cleverness rather than goodness. Any yet in our everyday language we acknowledge the primacy of the heart. Here are a few examples.
We judge a person by the heart. One of the damning things we can say about anyone is that ‘he has no heart’, or ‘he has a cold heart’, or ‘a hard heart’. But then one of the best things we can say about anyone is that ‘he has a heart’, or ‘he is warm-hearted’ or ‘soft hearted’. We judge the degree of a person’s commitment to something in terms of the heart saying ‘his heart is not in it’, or the opposite, ‘he puts his heart and soul in it’. We describe sorrow and joy in terms of the heart, such as: ‘her heart was broken’, or ‘her heart over-flowed with joy’. We describe burdens and wounds in terms of the heart: A ‘heavy heart’ or ‘broken heart’.
There are many more examples that could be given. However, let us end by looking at the two telling examples from today’s Gospel.
The first concerns worship. The worst thing that can be said about someone’s worship is that that the person’s heart is not in it. In which case, it is mere lip-service, like that of the Pharisees. And one of the best things that can be said about someone’s worship is that the person’s heart is in it. That it comes from the heart.
The second concerns badness and goodness. A corrupt heart is the worst form of badness. It means to be bad at the core. A pure heart is the best kind of goodness. It means to be good at the core.
The gospel places great emphasis on the heart, and we can see why. The heart is the source from which all our thoughts, words, and deeds flow. If the heart is clean, then all that flows from it will be clean. The Pharisees paid more attention to the outside than the inside. They were more preoccupied with having clean hands than having clean heart.
Today pollution has become a big issue, and rightly so. People want clean water, clean air, and clean food. But we should be even more concerned about the most dangerous pollution of all, namely, evil. Pride, anger, hate, lust, greed, envy… all these are dangerous pollutants.
So what must we do? We must purify the source; the heart is the source. It is the well-spring from which all our thoughts, words, and deeds flow. If the heart is clean, all that flows from it will be clean. Blessed are the clean of heart: they shall see God.