Proper 17, B
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Debie Thomas is a writer of Indian heritage. She writes, “I grew up in a church where jewelry was not allowed. No one in the congregation wore engagement rings or wedding bands. Women and girls weren’t permitted to wear rings, necklaces, bracelets, or earrings. Even play jewelry — the pink plastic rings I’d pull out of cereal boxes or the bead bracelets I’d make at my friends’ birthday parties — was banned. Anyone who showed up on a Sunday morning sporting an “ornament” — even first-time visitors ignorant of the prohibition — could be denied Communion.”
She learned to resent the rules, resent God’s reported hatred of jewelry. She found the argument that she was “clothed in righteousness”, that she was “storing up treasure in heaven”, that avoiding material distractions would make her a better Christian unconvincing. Instead of blossoming in purity and love, her heart seethed with anger and frustration, concentrating on her lack of adornment, NOT her love of Christ.
Years later, she learned the background:
In her great grandparents formative years, a large-scale charismatic revival swept through South India…”Many young adults had embraced the simple faith the revivalists encouraged in those days, and chosen — often at great personal and social cost — to change their lifestyles for the sake of the Gospel. One of the lifestyle changes centered around jewelry. At a time when gold meant social capital in India, when even Christian families judged each other’s worth by the weight of the jewelry their women wore, when girls whose fathers couldn’t produce enough jewelry for their dowries had to remain unmarried, the decision to forsake “ornaments” in the name of Jesus was a radical one. It spoke powerfully to the equalizing power of the Gospel. No longer would my great-grandparents and their peers participate in the snobbery of their time and place; instead, they would live counter-culturally and practice what Jesus preached — even if it meant losing their social standing and family honor. No matter what the cost, they would embrace humility, simplicity, and equality as testimonies of Christ’s non-discriminating love.
What began as a daring, transformative radical embrace of Christ’s love transformed over the years into grounds for exclusion of “less holy” people, people with crackerjack rings or a gold cross – someone who didn’t meet the code”. (Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus)
We love to hate the pharisees and their codes. Their hypocrisy, their self righteous bigotry, their fundamentalism, their tenacious grip on out-dated laws.
As it turns out, the Pharisees’ observance of the law began as a form of radical witness to the nations around them, a manner of demonstrating with their very lives the gift of the law that the one true God had given Israel through Moses.
One commentator writes, “In the book of Exodus, before the giving of the law, God tells the people of Israel that they are to be “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” in the midst of the nations around them (Exodus 19:6). The Pharisees took this calling to be a priestly kingdom and holy nation very seriously. They interpreted the laws concerning priests serving in the temple to apply to all God’s people and all aspects of life. As priests serving in the temple were required to wash their hands before entering the holy place or offering a sacrifice, the Pharisees believed that all Jews should wash their hands before meals as a way of making mealtime sacred, bringing every aspect of life under the canopy of God’s law. (Elisabeth Johnson, Working Preacher)
What began as way to bring the holy into every day of every life became a way to exclude the unholy, the unrighteous, the unworthy.
Once upon a time, an Eskimo hunter went to see the local missionary who had been preaching in his village.
“I want to ask you something,” the hunter said.
“What’s that?” the missionary said.
“If I did not know about God and sin,” the hunter said, “would I go to hell?”
“No,” the missionary replied, “if you did not know about God and sin, then you would not go to hell.”
“Then why,” asked the hunter, “did you tell me?”
(Annie Dilliard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)
Things might be easier if Jesus didn’t insist that we look at what comes out of our hearts. If we did not see what see when we look in the mirror of our lives.
We don’t like to think about sin, not as it applies to us anyway. We have, as one priest writes, “downsized those things we call sin”. We call lying “spin” and greed “motivation.” We call gossip “venting” to make it more acceptable. (Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin: the Lost Language of Salvation.). That downsizing is perhaps in reaction to church’s traditional tendency to use sin to shame, to control, to separate, to do exactly what the pharisees are doing – sift out the holy from the un-holy.
Richard Rohr wrote that “the original notion of sin is not to impute guilt; it is to name reality”. Jesus names reality, holds up the stark, naked truth for all to see. We cannot hide behind rules. These are the things that defile: fornication, theft, murder; These are the things that hold us separate from God: adultery, avarice, wickedness, These are the things which wound our souls: deceit, envy, pride, folly. To change that reality, we must see and name that reality; lest we become those who look at themselves in a mirror and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.
Jesus names reality. In fulfillment of God’s own purpose [God] gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
The heart is the inner face of your life. The human journey strives to make this inner face beautiful. It is here that love gathers within you. Love is absolutely vital for a human life. For love alone can awaken what is divine within you. In love, you grow and come home to yourself. (John O`Donohue – Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom)