Pentecost 14 30
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.
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
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
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.
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.
'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