Monday, August 27, 2012

A CHANGE OF HEART. A Homily for MARK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Homily for 9.2.12
MARK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23  (see below)
Year B










Homily Abstract:

WHO SPEAKS FOR GOD?
In this first section of the homily the text is mined for understanding the ongoing conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day. Using a question from New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright: Who in the text speaks for God? we see the outward piety and purity concern of the Pharisees actually betrays an inward bent toward evil, which will come to the surface when they eventually seek Jesus' demise.  

THE WICKEDNESS OF THE HUMAN HEART
But, lest we think too harshly of the Pharisees, we also have an evil heart! Do we believe this? This opens to us the crux of the homily, the reality of the wickedness of heart that all humans share. Using Jeremiah 17:9-10 as the key text of understanding, we explore and unpack the reality that all people share the wickedness of the Pharisees.

A CHANGE OF HEART
This leads us to climax of the homily, the blessed discovery that what GOD is doing in Jesus is reclaiming his-good-world-now-marred, part of which means his determination to create in us a clean heart.


for the full homily, then, click the 
"read more" button below



The Lectionary Gospel reading for today returns us to the Gospel of Mark, where the the gloves are now off as the Pharisees begin their attempt to discredit Jesus as a viable prophet to the nation. It is a painful read.

In this case the religious leaders confront Jesus with his follower's failure to honor the dietary traditions that have grown up around Torah, given to insure personal purity and national identity:

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. --For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. -- So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, "Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?"
But, you must know that if this were not the issue, as we shall see, it surely would be something else. Jesus did not see the world as they did, and they certainly did not agree with his understanding of the meaning and practice of the Law, therefore, he had to go. But, consider all they missed because of their chosen blindness.

WHO SPEAKS FOR GOD?
That is, because they were unwilling to see the miracles and the healings as a sign that the promised Kingdom was now present, in front of them, in the person of this young Hebrew prophet, they missed their GOD-moment (Lk.19:44). And, because they simply could not conceive of a Messiah who would not toe their line, who was not one of them in thinking and in practice, they not only reject Jesus, but seek to discredit him and eventually they move to destroy him! But, lest we think too harshly of these Hebrew religious leaders, however, this same blindness is easily applicable to us. How do we treat those with whom we disagree?

How did Jesus treat his attackers? How did he respond to their assault on his neglect of the traditions? He quoted Scripture:
Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition."
Then later in Mark 7 he unpacks his teaching:
He summoned the crowd again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.
"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."
What is at stake here, as N.T.Wright reminds us, are two questions. First: "What does it mean to be a good Jew in the 1st Century?" I would frame the possibilities as:

Purity as a means to violent revolution 

or 

Purity as a means to recovering 

a true humanity 

And Dr. Wright’s second question flows from this: "Who speaks for God?” That is, who offers a way of life that honors God through following the Scriptures?

This argument, where Jesus and the Pharisees see the world worlds apart, in one way removes this discussion from us. We have, after all, already sided with Jesus, believing him to be the Jewish Messiah and the Savior. On the other hand, however, there is a deeper understanding before us in this teaching of Jesus, and it is a sobering and unsettling truth Jesus has on offer. For, what we have before us is his teaching about defilement, about evil and about the human heart, all human hearts.

Of course, we know that the word heart, here, the kardía, does not refer to the human muscle. Instead, the word refers to, "the affective center of our being, the capacity of moral preference, the volitional desire or choice. As such it is the desire-producer that makes us tick and our 'desire-decisions' that establish who we really are." (for more go here)

Think-through that last statement, the idea of the heart as the center of who we really are.  Jesus, pushed to the topic of defilement by the Pharisees, cuts back toward them with radical precision, explaining that wickedness is from within, from their hearts, from their decisions and from their own choices. I doubt that any self-respecting Pharisee would have disagreed with Jesus' statement, in general, but they surely must have balked at it being applied so specifically to them.

Who wouldn't?

Said differently, I see this statement as a prophetic word about these religious leaders, for in the name of scripture and tradition, eventually they set aside both and initiate the process that leads to Jesus’ political murder by the Romans! This is what was really in their hearts. So it is legitimate to ask, I think: Do they really speak for GOD?


THE WICKEDNESS OF THE HUMAN HEART

But, again, lest we think too harshly of these Hebrew religious leaders, this same deceitfulness is easily applicable to us. That is, if in fact we take Jesus' words with any seriousness, then we too are deeply cut, for clearly, wickedness is not reserved for just the Pharisees or the Romans, is it? No, wickedness resides in us all, in all our hearts.

That is, we are all of us tainted by the stench of sin, which may be described as living the self-life -- living for what I want when I want it and to hell, literally, with everyone else. Of course, we put cologne on our stink, we mask it, eventually even succeeding in deceiving ourselves.

Here I am reminded of Jeremiah's prophetic text that spells out the corruption and baseness of the human heart:
"The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I know! I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve." (Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT) 
This statement of wisdom offered by the Prophet bears our continued, deep concern for it is neither a prophetic utterance neatly relegated to ancient ears nor is it a word reserved for those outside the faith. No, the ancient Prophet here mirrors Jesus teaching and taken with him should further remind us what St. Paul said:
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can't. (Romans 7:18)
In fact, Jeremiah asks the question concerning the human heart: “Who really knows how bad it is?” Who really knows the depth our our wickedness and lostness? Certainly not us. We cannot fathom the depth of our corruption. No, according to the text there is only one who really knows us:
“But I know! I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve."
This must stop us in our tracks; this must stop our daily building of heart facades. GOD, the Almighty, searches and knows our heart; he knows and understands our motives. GOD, the Almighty, sees our brokenness and corruption; he sees the depth of our...should I say it?...our evil.

Brothers and Sisters, we are not just out of sorts, and we have not just messed-up a little or just having a bad day. No. We are far from the the LORD and far from the light of his heart. Earlier in Jeremiah 17, the Prophet preaches:
This is what the LORD says: "Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans and turn their hearts away from the LORD. (Jeremiah 17:5)

There it is; there is the diagnosis of the human heart. We have all of us turned from the LORD and trusted in human government and human enterprise and only what seems right to our own eyes. We have all of us, as James tells us, the deceitful desires that lead to war:
1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4 NRSV)
In the end, we are like the the disciples whose problem Jesus identifies as hardness of heart (Mk.8:17)


A CHANGE OF HEART

What we need, then, is a new heart. And, thankfully, this is what the LORD promises. The prophecy of Ezekiel must be heard here:
22 Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleannesses...(Ezekiel 36:22-29a NRSV)
This, in fact, is what the LORD is at work doing through the person of Jesus. For, the Christian faith teaches that GOD seeks to reclaim his good world now marred by sin, and that in Jesus YAHWEH has returned to his people (Mal.3:1-2), fulfilling all his promises and vindicating his own Holy name. And, further, what is offered to the new humanity Jesus is creating from both Jew and Gentile is a new heart, a clean heart, a heart replacing the wicked and hard heart we now possess.

First, this means that we who are mysteriously drawn to the Jesus-way, and as we come to offer ourselves (all we have, all we are) to this new life and this new way to live, we are taken in by the Spirit of this living Jesus who both enables and empowers us to live truly human lives, lives that follow the Jesus-way of self-giving, sacrificial love and self-denying reconciling forgiveness. For, this is what it means to be truly human.

But, second, this conversion is also an ongoing shaping of our hearts. “Take up your cross daily, and follow me," says Jesus. That is, there must be a daily conversion of our hearts, for even as we grow into the new heart offered by the living Spirit of the risen Christ, there remains remnants of the old, vestiges and strongholds of hate and greed and lust. What to do about these? Simply, all our thoughts and our actions must be brought captive to the LORDship of Christ. (2 Cor.10:4-5)

The old-timers called this holiness. But, as we learned from today’s text, true holiness must begin from within and move without. Said differently, there must be no dichotomy between our inner lives and our outward practice. What is really in us will eventually surface, and the only way what comes out of us carries some sort of purity is that what is inside of us has been daily crucified (again, take up your cross daily). Or, said still differently, with the poet we must daily pray (and sometimes hourly), “Create in me a clean heart...”(Ps.51:10). Prayer is the only way to holiness.



_________________________________

Gospel 
MARK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem
gathered around Jesus,
they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals
with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.
--For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews,
do not eat without carefully washing their hands,
keeping the tradition of the elders.
And on coming from the marketplace
they do not eat without purifying themselves.
And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed,
the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. --
So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him,
"Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders
but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?"
He responded,
"Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.
You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition."

He summoned the crowd again and said to them,
"Hear me, all of you, and understand.
Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.

"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."