Pentecost 14   30 August, 2015

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

We think that we probably know this passage rather well; that Jesus is telling those awful Pharisees to get off, saying that the precepts of the law will not work and that what is of supreme importance is our integrity as human persons; have a good heart and you will walk right with God.

The re is something in this but it is just slightly off beam. First, in Jesus' time Pharisees were good guys, devout; people were inclined to look up to them. Second. the more so as his point is not so unusual; what Jesus sees about the heart would have been familiar to Bert Pharisee and his family. The place for God’s word is the heart  "You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul" Deuteronomy 11:18. The heart for Jesus and for the ancient Jews is also the place of our thoughts and intentions and not just about what goes on in secret and in  our feelings.

Jesus does not attack the law. What he attacks is how certain practices go against  what those laws intend, to safeguard how Jews can be truly faithful to God. Indeed, in the next passage in Mark he behaves with reserve towards a non-Israelite because to do otherwise would go against the law; Jesus loves the law and keeps it, quite strictly. To be cheeky one might say he ‘out-pharisees’ the Pharisee.

In Jesus we have someone who has a claim to have the word of God in His heart; at one level of course that divine word is the whole subject of His life, never apart from Him, wholly sustaining Him even at the point of death. This is why we can trust what Jesus says. Jesus does not attack customs as such - let them come down in buckets - rather he attacks them when they are bearing a weight which they cannot bear and it is not just religious rituals or traditions.

What Jesus does is to reassert the law's basic concern to be about restraining evil and avoiding defilement, what keeps us ‘hearts far from’ (Mk 7.6) God. This is the ascribing to any practice or idea a weight which it cannot hold, what Paul refers to as the principalities … the powers … the world rulers of this present darkness … the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph 6.12). That arises from the heart, where we think and feel and respond, where we act and do stuff in fact; it is not only our individual heart but that we share with others, good and bad. Jesus is saying something less about the individual heart - however important that may be - but more about the world. Evil and hearts far from God are places rather deeply embedded within our very humanity. The y touch us all.

It is brought home to us when we see a lorry packed with the bodies of refugees, a two year old among them who suffocated in a refrigerated lorry. An evil, a damnable evil indeed but it is brought home to us also it is when persons stand up and boast of our country’s record towards refugees and then refuse to work with other wealthy countries to give a just welcome to those in desperate straits. (Not compassionate for that is what it is; church people can use that word compassionate a little too often.)  That is ascribing to an idea a weight which it cannot hold, for athough believed by many it does not hold weight. Four million have fled Syria over the last three years; fewer than 250 have so far found asylum and the government has only promised this to 500.

No Pharisee, no Levite on the road to Jericho , defiled like that, none such a hypocrite. When we see so dithering a reaction to such suffering is as narrow and as broken as it is in our country, we see our heart is awry. It is the way of the defiled heart. It is sin.  

It is when other figures keep quiet or do not speak against fear and such neo-Poujadist chauvinism. First, however, we need to look to ourselves to allow God’s word to come to our hearts and soul, that is to be open for those others who share our humanity.  A refugee has a claim on us for being thus and no other reason. The n we have to do what we can to roll back the chauvinism which results in yet more suffering.

The issue of the refugee, those driven from their homes and lands, is the most important issue of our day, one of those issues on which being far from God, our shared heart, stands or falls; how one welcomes the refugee? You might say, should not the question be should one welcome these refugees? No, the question is how. One has heard of how the quiet living citizens of Passau have found exhausted Syrians in the morning in their gardens and have responded with breakfast and then clothes and then a way to somewhere better. The heart is not always as it were defiled,

It needs us to act; fuming is not enough, especially if we let a dislike for a particular political rump blaze away. Not a good use of the heart meant for the word of God, that. How would you react if an exhausted Syrian family turned up in your front garden? How would we respond with our space here in the Community? Some words from W H Auden  

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew;
Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.

The consul banged the table and said:
'If you've got no passport, you're officially dead';
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go today, my dear, but where shall we go today?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said:
'If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread';
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

[Refugee Blues (1939)]

Thomas Seville CR