I have to admit that I love the sections of the Gospel where Jesus goes after the hypocritical Pharisees. This week’s reading from Mark is an excellent example of that. The Pharisees have their undergarments all in a twist because Jesus followers are not adhering to a custom that had been adopted by the Jews. His followers are not washing their hands before they eat. OK, if seven-year-old boys knew this text was there, I am confident they would use it often. “Honey, why didn’t you wash your hands before dinner.” “Well, mom, in Mark chapter seven, the Pharisees asked Jesus the very same question regarding the apostles, and let me tell you Jesus had some harsh words for the Pharisees. . .”
Let’s be clear, this is not a passage about the validity of washing or not washing one’s hands before meals. The problem was that the Pharisees had made washing hands or not, or any number of customs a sort of litmus test regarding the holiness of a person. How can we tell who the really righteous amongst us are? Well, do they wash their hands before meals? Jesus has no time for this. He isn’t concerned with how holy or righteous someone acts. Jesus is concerned about whether or not a person is actually righteous.
He makes this very clear when he says,
Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, …But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile. (Mark 7:18-23)
In our modern Church, we have a huge problem. We have forgotten what Jesus actually taught about holiness. I know, when I say, “in our modern Church…” the temptation is to immediately jump to the current scandal. And, yes, that scandal could have been avoided if more attention at the level of the episcopate had been paid to what was going on in the heart. But the truth is, the modern Church is much bigger than the Bishops and priests. It includes us, the laity, too.
When we hear this week’s Gospel, we should not think exclusively, “yeah, that’s right! You tell them, Jesus!” For the most part, we should hear Jesus talking to us. We should be convicted. “What is going on in my heart? What evil thoughts have I been entertaining? What unchastity have I let flourish in my hidden heart?” Don’t get me wrong, I am super angry that once again the Church is embroiled in scandal. I am disgusted. As I wrote last week, I am struggling. But, that does not mean I get a pass concerning my own holiness. I am not going to let the anger I feel at the scandal in the Church become a tool in the hands of the devil. No, instead, this week I am asking God to speak to me through His Word.
Take a look at Mark 7:18-23 again. Pray through it. Ask God to convict your heart. Take some time and allow the Lord to show you any hidden areas of sin that have crept into your mind and your heart, and take some time to repent, asking the Lord to come in and bring healing. If there are sins to be confessed, then commit to going to confession as soon as you can.
I love it when Jesus calls out the hypocrites in the Gospel. But, most of the time I like it because in my pride I think of other people when I read it. Today, I am asking God to show me any areas of hypocrisy in my faith, and I am asking him to change me.