Read: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Meditation: “Beyond Appearances”
Jesus pulls no punches in this week’s lesson. In what must have been a scathing denouncement of superficial spirituality, he made it clear that reality is born from within. It’s possible to look good and be bad.
More than 2000 years later, Jesus’ words are as relevant and needed as they were when he first spoke them. A recent trip I made to a magazine stand, looking for a particular edition of a news magazine, made it clear to me once again how “image oriented” the fallen world is.
“Looking good” has achieved the status of virtue in our culture. Pictures on the covers of the various glamor magazines and the articles written to promote “youthfulness” in almost every area of life (with pills and surgeries included), prompted me to walk away in dismay—wondering how much damage we are doing by projecting such things as “the good life,” not only to adult readers, but to our children who get their impressions from sources like this.
But if we put this into lectionary context, there’s something even worse—it’s the possibility (tendency?) for religion to fall into the same “image” trap. We have lost untold numbers of people (some from the flock, and others who decided to not enter it) who could see our “white-washed tombs” before the paint we were putting on them had even dried.
The real indictment in what Jesus is saying is that it is still “what’s inside that counts.” We are the ones who have created a counterfeit virtue which believes a person can be a good leader without being a good person. Our predecessors, including some who were not even Christian, would look at us in amazement and with judgment for such thinking. It deserves the harsh words Jesus used to describe it.
There’s no way to bypass the force of this week’s reading, and Jesus himself spoke in ways that would deliberately bring everything into focus. Whether it be in the halls of society or in the church, the only “goodness” we have is living with an undivided heart. Hypocrites were then (and are now) people who look one way to the public, but privately operate in other ways.
This rule is still in force: “what comes out of a man is what defiles him” (v. 20). This evil does its work in individuals and institutions.
The only way out is to put away the paint and incense and get out the vacuum cleaner and the Lysol.