9 February 2011Mark 7:14-23
"For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come." (v. 21)
This reading follows directly on from the debate Jesus had with the religious
leaders about their interpretation of the law. Jesus now turns
first to the crowd and then to his disciples, and clearly they are
confused or perhaps even stunned by what he is saying to them. Is
Jesus really sweeping away the rules given to them by Moses, which
made it explicit what food was clean and unclean?
It is possible that Jesus was comparing one set of rules with another and making it clear which he felt to be the most important. Just like the Old Testament prophets before him (eg Hosea 6.6), Jesus is pointing out that if people focus their time on public ritual to demonstrate signs of cleanliness but do not clean their hearts and live by moral standards, they will be failing to live as God wants them to.
Mark (the author of the Gospel) however takes us further than this understanding. At the time that he was writing, the growing Christian communities were struggling with the relevance of Jewish food laws. This is evident in the importance placed on Peter's vision in Joppa of a large sheet descending from heaven carrying unclean food being offered to him, a story repeated a number of times in Acts chapters 10-11. For the new Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians it was important for them to know that the old rules about what could be eaten had been abolished, and they would have looked to these words of Jesus to confirm that. For them it was yet more evidence that the old barriers had been broken down and that God loved them just as much as he loved the Jews.
What in your own life leaves your heart unclean? Ask God's help to deal with this.
How far do we place unreasonable expectations on others who are seeking faith which then act as a barrier to them knowing God more fully? What should we do instead?