November 12, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news today is in Mark 7:14-23.
He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” When he got home away from the crowd his disciples questioned him about the parable. He said to them, “Are even you likewise without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) “But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
Why do we choose to commit these evils upon one another especially those we profess to most love? There are endless answers to those questions particular to each one of us. Barclay writes, “Pleonexia [greed] is that lust for having which is in the heart of the man who sees happiness in things instead of God.” He is referring to greed, but I think it applies to all evils in our hearts. We so often seek our happiness in experiences instead of God. We think that sex will fulfill us or that revenge for some harm will be sweet justice or that if we just had something we’ve always dreamed of, we would be happy. Of course, it never turns out that way once the moment of pleasure is past or the thing possessed.
It’s good I read this passage this morning. I’ve been weighing the lure of a tempting experience and my moral integrity. With such a clear distinction you’d think my choice would be a foregone conclusion. Oh, if it were only that easy for me! My heart’s desire is a persistent longing. It feels like the strong current of a river. It’s so much easier to float with it, to indulge, to immerse myself in its power. It’s much harder to swim against, to resist. Jesus knows this about me; he knows my weaknesses.
Notice that he doesn’t rank order what defiles us? I think it’s because all of these things separate us from God, cause us to choose temporary pleasure instead of the happiness to be found in being in relationship with Him. I just finished a really insightful book titled Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships. The main premise is that until we experience and believe through and through that God loves us as we are (as He created us), we can’t love ourselves and satisfy the longings of our hearts. When I am able to seek out His spirit within me and rest in His love, then I am ready to do His will and to resist the temptations to separate from Him. That’s how I really love myself, not in engaging these vices that Jesus tells me defile myself.
I never win once and for all, though. It is a continuing struggle for me to choose to seek my happiness in God or in indulging the temptations that bedevil my restless heart. Barclay observes, “It is a truly terrible list which Jesus cites of the things that come from the human heart. When we examine it a shudder surely passes over us. Nonetheless it is a summons, not to a fastidious shrinking from such things, but to an honest self-examination of our own hearts.” An honest self-examination. I often don’t want to go down that road because I know where it will lead — to denial of satisfying my dark desires. God is always there, though, to flood me with His love and His strength to resist if I will just turn to Him. He’s there in my heart, too.