The three readings from the Lectionary for this Sunday the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary time; Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8, James 1:17-18 and Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23 have a common thread that can be recognized reading them together. In the first reading Moses, the author expresses the laws of God are fair. This was heard at a time when fair was not as in vogue as it is today. The rich had everything, and there was no way for someone poor to become rich. It was class and family deciding position, no chance to improve. But in God’s law fairness is not only a notable result it is an expressed purpose. Today we expect fairness but for the people at the time of Moses would have see this as revolutionary.
In the second reading, James tells us that God is the perfect giver and what God gives is truth and the word. The word God gives can save our souls, no matter who we are, if we listen and follow. The word we hear is the word God puts on our hearts and is a saving word. God plants it, a seedling, growing in us through our life, as we mature it matures, changing us each day, we go from hearers of the word to doers. What does James recommend we do; care for those without a home and protect ourselves from the influences of the world, the pull for individualism, success at all cost and seeking our own self-interests which ignores the needs of others.
In Mark we hear Jesus speaking to a crowd around him. The Pharisees come to question Jesus about his disciples and their disregard of the purity rituals all Jews followed, particularly when they eat. Jesus hears their challenge and uses it as a chance to call out hypocrites. What good is it to have clean hands that honor God if you have hearts that are far from God? Pointing the message back at the Pharisees he wonders what good is it to teach how to be a follower of God when in your heart you are not.A message from the Sunday readings for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time from Deuteronomy, James and Mark. 'All Evil comes from Within.' -@andystanley Click To Tweet
Jesus speaks so everyone around him may hear, saying what comes from the outside cannot profane us, but only what begins from within can violate our purity. It is from the heart of a person that evil begins, in thoughts that turn into bad deeds. Jesus list sins that begin in the heart and stresses the point that evil cannot start without first turning someone’s heart to act in an evil way.
Small Seeds Change Us
In James we hear the saving word is planted, it starts as a small seed and slowly grows. Evil is not foolish, it too knows to begin as a seedling in the heart. It would be impossible for evil to gain any traction if the first temptation is to try to get us to kill someone. Certainly Jesus followers would never kill but even atheist would say murder is wrong and therefore could not be easily tempted into killing another person.
So evil starts small. Imagine you find some money, a small amount, you look around quickly to see if you can find who might have lost it. Not seeing anyone you decide to just keep it. Is it yours? Are you allowed to keep it? This simple act has now created a weakening of your own discipline. You have decided you can keep something that doesn’t belong to you, as long as it is small and you can’t find the owner. It is OK, no harm, no foul.
As luck would have it months later you find more money, this time a large amount, at the mall. You know you should turn it in to security so the owner can return to find it. But you doubt you can trust other people with that much cash, there really is no way they are accountable. So you hang on to it thinking you will find the owner on your own somehow. You look without finding anyone who lost money so you decide to keep it. Now you are a little more corrupted. In your mind your actions are justified. But your decision has not only allowed defilement of your own heart but you have profaned others in a small way by declaring them untrustworthy. You have convinced yourself others are untrustworthy although you have no real evidence this is true, yet you believe it. It may seem a small thing, but small things lead to big things.Deciding you can’t trust others, you become more independent, you see your neighbor less, so you love them less. Click To Tweet
Deciding you can’t trust others, you become more independent, you see your neighbor less, so you love them less. Now you aren’t even noticing the orphan or widow who needs help. These very people God has called us Christians to help go unnoticed. This lack of trust grows in us and helps us to see the other as someone who is dishonest, someone we have no empathy for, we don’t even notice their troubles or life struggles.
More and more we see our neighbor as someone who wants something, and they are not willing to work for it like we have. We must now protect what we have and gather more and more to be sure we don’t become like them, needy and dependent on others. The way we look at them is not a way we want people to look at us. So we hoard and we do all we can to obtain more and more, keeping it. If we share at all we share from our abundance, we never share ALL we have, we need to save for a “rainy day.”
Soon we realize we trust only in our own ability to provide for ourselves. God tells us we can depend on him, but we know how to take care of ourselves. Our dependence on God only happens when someone is really sick or there is an earthquake, something big. Day to day we take care of ourselves. To live totally dependent on God for the meal of the day, or to provide shelter for us, that is for those who are foolish, those who aren’t able to be successful like us, because they don’t work hard enough like us.
And now our neighbor becomes desperate, their need leaves them no alternative but to come and take some of ours. Even though we have so much, we know they have no right to it, our hearts harden, we will make sure they can’t take from us. When they do come to steal from us, we have every right to stop them. So we ready our gun. And now killing them is justifiable, in fact necessary. The act that evil could not initiate in us as a first temptation has now become necessary for us to accomplish. With patience, taking advantage of our fallen human nature, in a few small steps, evil has talked us into killing another. A small seed has now grown into a huge plank.Small compromises accumulate and make doing bad things OK. Killing becomes justifiable, even necessary. Click To Tweet
Sin from Within
This is an exaggerated tale, an example attempting to show it is the little things, the small acts of selfishness, that we justify, that turn us away from the wishes of the Lord. I cannot find the owner of this money so then it must be God wants me to have it. It is only a little bit of greed to want the money that doesn’t belong to us. We don’t even recognize we are deceiving ourselves when we decide not to trust the cash we find with anyone but ourselves. We have created not only theft of the money but have damaged the integrity of others who we don’t even know. We become arrogant as we decide others can’t be trusted? These are just a few of the sins Jesus mentions when speaking to the people in Mark about defilement coming from within.
This first small act of selfishness and self-interest has begun the defiling of our heart, it grows in us and these types of scenarios become common in our culture, eventually there is no one we can trust. Where is God’s fairness? Where are our actions to help others? God’s command is to love our neighbor. Love becomes impossible if we have decided to keep others at arm’s length, not trusting them. Rather than seeing others as collaborators we see them as opposition.
These scenarios of mistrust play out again and again in our daily life. An eight year old daughter walking her dog has the cops show up because she shouldn’t be alone and the mother having child services investigating her. A lady sees a black man entering a house and calls the cops only to find out he lives there. When we don’t live God’s commandments and let evil defile us, we make our home a place of fear and paranoia. Evil has won the day when we can’t trust our neighbor, or fellow citizen and worse we don’t even know who they are.
Protect your heart. Discipline yourself and your family to not allow the small things that are wrong to enter into normalcy. Always place high importance on trust and integrity. Ask yourself, do I know what I am saying is true? (Even when it is just a Facebook post.) Do I protect others possessions as well as I protect my own. Do I take the time to get to know someone before I decide they are not safe for me? God’s commandments are better for us than the human traditions we create. God works toward fairness. God works toward the care of everyone. But God needs us, undefiled and pure of heart, to make a world that is safe and loving. It begins in the little things; take care of the little things, God will take care of the big things in our life. Trust God!Protect your heart. Discipline yourself and your family to not allow the small things that are wrong to enter into normalcy. Always place high importance on trust and integrity. Click To Tweet