Have You Forgotten?

Text: Mark 7:14-23
Date: Pentecost XV Proper 17 + 9/2/18

One of the final words from God to His people in our Old Testament reading for today from the last book of Moses reiterated the importance and blessing of the Law He gave to His people with the reminder, “listen to the statutes and the just decrees that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” And to this day the Church, preachers and true theologians are careful, according to God’s command in this text, not to add to the word nor take from it. This Word will outshine the wisdom of the world so that people will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” But then one more warning, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.” Did God have a hunch that they and we needed these reminders and warnings?

For how soon God’s people would forget, say for instance, His mighty deliverance in the Exodus quickly turning and complaining  against Him and His servant Moses forgetting His might and love. In today’s Gospel we are hearing Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees and how they had added to the simple Word of God the 613 additional commands of the oral law. If you listen carefully to many modern-day preachers you can detect such addition to or subtraction from God’s Word today. The Lutheran Church in Australia is going for a third try for the ordination of women as pastors even though they had twice before upheld the teaching of St. Paul in the New Testament that such a vocation is not given to women. Or how about the LGBT pride flag showing up in front of more and more churches who have thrown out the sixth commandment or at least reinterpreted it to fit in with a misguided and wayward society?

Jesus called these men hypocrites pointing them away from the man-made oral law to God’s own written Law, saying in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Mk 7:6-7). It is this difference between the lips and the confession or, as we shall see, the stomach and the heart that makes all the difference. We even prayed in today’s Introit, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

The enemies complained to Jesus that His disciples were breaking one of their precious purity laws of not ceremonially washing their hands before eating. Today we hear Jesus getting almost overly graphic, saying, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” One thing has only to do with the stomach, the other with the heart. He even explains to His disciples how from the outside things enter not your heart but your stomach,” and then, as if we need the additional information He says, these things are “expelled.” Some like to translate the word “privy.” The word actually does not refer to the bowel but means “a place to which one retires and sits down”!

What is of greater importance, of course, and does defile and even condemn a person are those things that proceed from the inside, that is, from our fallen, sin-filled nature. He lists things first related to the second table of the Law, that is, how we treat and sin against the neighbor and then finally things against the first table of the Law, that is things that disrupt and even destroy our relationship with God.

When He begins with evil thoughts we think of the letter of St. James when he describes the progression of sin from the heart to the act, saying, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Or recall Jesus’ own diagnosis, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28).

And that’s the direction our Lord’s list goes in our text, evil thoughts leading to sexual immorality. What a powerful force of defilement is sexual desire. Considering our own temptations I suppose we shouldn’t be overly surprised at the current (and ongoing) scandal among certain Roman Catholic priests.

Then follow coveting, wickedness and deceit all I suppose related to the love of money. Blasphemy or slander include vicious language that is directed against God and men. We need not go on to describe what a cesspool the human heart is.

So it’s not what goes into a person that defiles his heart. The evil, sin and death is already there. But there is one “thing” that goes into a person from the outside that can cleanse the heart, renew a right spirit, restore the joy of salvation and give us a spirit willing to desire and follow the true purity of the love of God and neighbor. And that “thing” (if you will) is Christ through His holy Word and sacrament, His commands and teaching and especially His sacred body and blood that takes away sin and death restoring the joy of salvation, life, hope and love.