30 August 2015

Mark 7:1-23

“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” (vv. 18-21)

Psalm: Psalm 15


In this passage Jesus is in conflict with the Pharisees (again), this time about ritual handwashing. At first sight he makes a point which seems quite obvious to us, you cannot make yourself good by concentrating on only external things, what matters is what comes from the inside. So far, so good. But then he makes the contrast in verses 18-23 between what enters the stomach and comes from the heart. Suddenly the bar seems high - it is, after all, much easier to watch what you eat then it is to control your feelings. Is Jesus really saying, that when I wake up grumpy, when I cannot get a certain person out of my head (even though I am committed to someone else) when I am jealous of another's success, I have failed already?

But Jesus was not using heart the way we do. Our notion is that you think with your head and feel with your heart. The ancient world made different assumptions. In Jesus' day people assumed that you felt with bowels (think what happens when you get nervous) but made your decisions with heart. That is why the Old Testament is full of appeals to follow God with all your heart (eg 1 Samuel 12:20). Jesus did not intend to direct our attention to our feelings. He wanted us to think instead, about our concrete decisions in life and how our actions affect other people. It is worth examining the list in verses 21-22 again and think about how human life is distorted if our actions are ruled by the things that Jesus gives as examples.

The temptation of the Pharisees was to focus too much on ritual action in their relationship with God. But is our modern day temptation that we focus too much on our feelings, as if God is only concerned with our inner purity not with how we treat other people?

To Ponder

  • What do you think are our modern temptations in our relationship with God? In other words, are there areas on which we concentrate too much whilst ignoring what God is really asking us to do?
  • We are all different. Are you led mainly by reason, feelings or something else? Take some time to ponder how that affects your relationship with God and with others.

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.