My husband and I were once invited to join a Jewish family for Passover dinner in their home. We loved the stories behind each course and every ritual and it gave me a better sense of my own faith. To someone unfamiliar with Jewish dietary laws, they seemed complicated, but to this family it was an important and respected part of their religous practice.
In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks to a crowd who would have been very familiar with the food laws. But, as sometimes happens to all of us, there might have been more focus on the technicalities of the law rather than the importance and meaning of the religious practice. Jesus tries to shift the focus from the rules about the defilement of our bodies to something more important – what is in our hearts. We see a very human Jesus using the example of the most basic bodily functions. He says that it is not what comes out of our body that defiles us but what goes into our hearts.
Then he notes the kinds of sins that might be in our hearts. It’s a list most of us can start reading comfortably, knowing we don’t commit those sins. Jesus begins his list: “unchastity, theft, murder, adultery…” Really, those are the kinds of sins other people commit.
Then Jesus gets to the end of his list: “envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly”… Now I feel the pinch. These are clearly things Jesus says will defile us. Am I ever envious? Do I use God’s name in vain? Arrogance – it’s one of my best sins! Folly? It means the lack of good sense and to that I must sometimes admit guilt, most often during a good bout of arrogance.
The list of things that defile us, take away from the dignity and sanctity we have as human beings, is a list of ordinary struggles of everyday life. When we run into a situation that is overwhelming, do we spontaneously turn to God or do we conclude we can handle this situation ourselves? That arrogance, that independence, draws us away from feeling God’s presence in our lives. God is still there just as deeply, but we are so busy testing our own power, sure we can go it alone.
Today’s gospel is a reminder that we aren’t created to “go it alone” and that Jesus is our savior, wanting to heal us. We have to be aware of how often we fall short, because it is only when we realize how much we need a savior, that we will allow one to enter our lives. We can ask for Jesus' grace to change what comes out of us, to bless our envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly, and to transform it by his love into generosity, kind words, compassion and a willingness to let go of our stubbornness.
Lord, change my heart and what comes out of it. Bless my efforts and my life and allow me to really feel how much I need you as a savior in my life. Let my heart be open to everyone you have sent to be in my day.
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