Today’s readings remind us that the source if good and evil is the heart, not external things. The heart is our inner sanctum where we can be pure or defiled, and both conditions try to go beyond their confines to influence the lives of others.
In today’s First Reading we’re reminded that that the purpose of the Law is to enable us to grow closer to God and to show our intelligence and wisdom. In Jesus’ time the Pharisees had derived over six hundred rules and regulations from the Law, all derived from the Law spelled out in the Old Testament books (Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, etc.). However, they had lost sight of the fundamentals: love for God and neighbor, not just ritual cleanliness. Moses reminds them today that the Law is to be followed so that they not only have intelligence and wisdom, but show it. Intelligence is something that shines from within. It’s not just the information we receive that counts, but how we process it and use it. Wisdom influences how we perceive the world. It makes us see causes, connections, and consequences, and our actions show or disprove that we are wise.
In today’s Second Reading St. James reminds us that in order to please God we should strive “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The “world” today believes that if something feels good, you should do it, but the world is also witness to how much destructive behavior comes from following that principle. We are wounded by original sin and our own sins; not everything as a result feels good that is good–addicts destroy themselves by trying to feel good. Lots of behavior turns into compulsive behavior that we can’t control: this is a stained heart that Our Lord wants to make clean again through love and mercy.
The Pharisees in Our Lord’s earthly time were focused on externals and had lost sight of the bigger picture. Our Lord reminds us in today’s Gospel that defilement comes from hearts and endangers other hearts, and we should strive to maintain purity of heart, not just ritual cleanliness. In today’s Gospel, using the example of dietary laws, Our Lord is teaching us that the “Devil made me do it” as an argument has no merit. The problem of evil has plagued man and philosophy almost since Creation, and a trend has always tried to blame God or other things as the cause of sin when all man needed to do was look in the mirror. The Lord created everything good and for the good, but his creatures freely chose to do evil instead: the fallen angels, starting with the Devil, and humanity, starting with Adam and Eve. If the world is a mess it is because we, sinners, made it so.
The dietary laws in Jesus’ time believed certain foods brought ritual contamination and, therefore, defiled a man, Mark makes a point of saying in his account that Jesus is teaching that there are no ritually impure foods. It’s a teaching that even the first disciples would struggle with as they realized that Christianity was meant to go beyond the Jewish world and culture. The Original Sin of Adam and Eve robbed us of something we, their descendants, couldn’t do without, and it is only thanks to the Redemption that their sin didn’t condemn us all to spiritual death. However, Adam and Eve aren’t to blame for all of it: we too have sinned and continue to sin. This sobering reality is not meant to discourage us; rather, it makes us realize that not only do we need Savior, but have one: Our Lord.
Our Lord gives a long list of things that come from defiled hearts and endanger other hearts, and they can all be traced back to someone going overboard in trying to feel “good” and dragging others into their behavior, even through their bad example. James in the Second Reading may have spoken of charity toward widows and orphans, but acting in this disordered way is also a lack of charity toward others, since it can lead them to spiritually ruin themselves. Let’s ask Our Lord to practice charity with all our heart, not only caring for others, but treating them with purity of heart and encouraging them to do the same. In that way we’ll please God and remain close to him.
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–8; Psalm 15:2–5; James 1:17–18, 21b–22, 27; Mark 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23. See also 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.