Mark 7:14-23

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:14-23

“You can’t judge a book by its cover.” When did you hear that for the first time? You can’t remember, can you? It is just another of those basic tidbits of knowledge that we all received as we were growing up. We can rank it right up there with things like George Washington saying “I cannot tell a lie.”

The one thing that we all know about “you can’t tell a book by its cover” is that it isn’t referring to books and their covers. It is instead about judging a person – gently or harshly – based on their appearance or other easily observable characteristics. We can’t tell about a person’s insides by looking at their outsides.

That is one point that Jesus is making here as he teaches the crowds. In that he is attacking the innate exclusivity that comes with tribal thinking. That always sounds something like “our team is good and every other team is bad” regardless of the character of our team. We’re good because we…ARE.

The other point has to do with, as Jesus puts it, “whatever goes into a person from the outside.” All Jews knew exactly what he meant. Since the earliest days of Leviticus, dietary laws were part of what contributed to their tribal exclusivity. It was another entry on the long list of stuff that “makes us better” than anyone else. I’m better than you because I don’t eat bacon. Really? Yet that was taken with utter seriousness. Even to the point of doubling up on kitchen utensils so the stuff you’re cooking doesn’t touch anything else inappropriately.

That line – thus he declared all foods clean – would have been revolutionary to his Jewish listeners. (Personally I would be OK if liver stayed unclean.)

We recognize some of this. Any of us who spent any time in one of the “holiness” churches on the way up knew there was a long list of evil things that we could put into our mouths, our eyes, or our ears. Everything from rock and roll to raunchy movies, from cigarettes to sex, from drugs and alcohol to dancing and playing cards, all made the list of naughty no-no’s. People still did that stuff. They just didn’t admit to it or tried hard not to get caught.

What is all of that about? Conformity to the expectations of the tribe. Fitting in.

Now look at the list of evils that Jesus points out – fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.

What are they about? They are a list of the sort of things that damages, even destroys, our relationships with other people. We don’t just hurt ourselves with them, we seriously hurt other people. We break the bonds of human community. NOTHING on this list has to do with tribal exclusivity. Everything has to do with God’s concern for wholeness for all.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, from team colors to skin colors, it feels like dividing people into groups is so natural for us that it feels right. But we realize that dividing is only the first step toward conquering. Help us to see the us-ness of human community and to act accordingly, out of love, toward ourselves and others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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