We spent the last five Sundays reflecting on the life-giving Bread of Life Discourse in the sixth chapter of John. We now resume reading from the Gospel of Mark (chapter 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23) and as we do, we are offered a contrast between legalistic external religion and pure, authentic faith emanating from the heart. The Pharisees and scribes approach Jesus and question him, “why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” They were not accusing the disciples of poor hygiene. They were casting judgment on the disciples for not adhering to an extensive washing ritual prescribed by the tradition of the elders. We sense how much the Pharisees doubted Jesus. How could Jesus be the righteous Son of God if He and His disciples failed to follow the Laws of Moses and the traditions of the elders? In their eyes, failing to follow the religious rituals would make a person defiled, impure, unrighteous, and unfit for worship in God’s presence.
Jesus responded strongly to the Pharisees’ thinking, calling them hypocrites, people who deceive themselves by living dual lives: an outward appearance of righteousness alongside an interior life in which hearts are not submitted to God but overtaken by defiling thoughts. Jesus declared that the condition of the human heart is of the greatest importance for “nothing that enters the from outside can defile that person, but the things that come from within are what defile.” God sees our hearts and discerns when our faith is merely lip service while our hearts are distanced from Him. Jesus came to show that God is not distant, but desires to reside in our hearts, empowering us to experience and embody His love. By doing so we may authentically live out a pure and undefiled faith, causing love instead of evil to flow from the heart outwards,
His Spirit is with us as we strive for true, ongoing conversion of the heart in which our interior intentions and external actions become unified. A conversion of the heart enables us to be so embedded in Christ’s ways, that instead of critically judging the spirituality of others, we attract others to Christ by living His way of love in word and deed. May we open our hearts and invite Christ’s indwelling Spirit of love to enter in. May we “welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save our souls.” (James 1:21) Amen.