We live in a strange world in which we try hard to make sense of our lives and keep the different parts in health and harmony. We are at one and the same time individuals with unique identities and personalities and also essential parts of the communities that we live in. We live in the world, taking it into ourselves, but maintaining our integrity against it. We live in a world, therefore, where some things are outside of us and some things are inside us, a world where there are both visible and invisible realities. And we have both bodies and souls, and how the two relate mystify the greatest physicians and metaphysicians of the ages.
In this passage from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that it is not the things that come into us from the outside that make us unclean but the things that go out of us. There is humor in this statement because Jesus apparently is making a joke about the difference between the food we eat that goes into us and the waste products of the digestion of that food which come out of us.
Jesus’ point is that in and of themselves, things are clean. Remember who created everything, and what His pronouncement upon every part of His creation was: He declared that it was all good. He declared, in essence, all things clean when He created them.
Now it’s true that He also put limitations on food from the beginning, perhaps partially to train us and our appetites. But in this passage (and in Peter’s vision in the book of Acts), Jesus declares all food clean.
Jesus’ point is that what makes things unclean is not the thing itself but our sin. We are the ones who defile things by what comes out of our hearts. Think of any sin you can imagine, and behind it you will find a potentially godly creature or pleasure. Culturally, it seems that sometimes sexual sins are the ones we first think of and pay attention to. But just whose idea was sex in the first place? Is sex sinful, or is it only sex outside of marriage, God’s ordained context for sex, that is sinful?
It’s not wrong to provide for oneself, but if you are greedy to provide more and more; if you are covetous that what God has given you is not enough; and if you choose to provide for yourself by stealing, then you have defiled yourself.
For every good thing that God has created, there is a potential to use it for sinful purposes. The problem, therefore, is with us, and not the things themselves. It is our hearts, especially, that are corrupt. From where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Look at some of the unclean things that St. Paul lists: adultery, fornication, murder, theft, deceit, and blasphemy. Each of these is an evil action. But behind each of these evil actions is an evil thought. And behind each of the evil thoughts lies an evil heart that desires its own things above God’s things. Take adultery as an example. Long before the physical adultery takes place (in most cases), there are adulterous thoughts. The adulterer has had thoughts of having sex with someone other than his spouse. But where do these adulterous thoughts come from? Do they just spontaneously happen? No, behind theme there is an evil heart that actually generates them.
Some of the sins we commit may not actually become physical actions that we take but remain desires of the heart, things like anger, pride, covetousness, and greed. But even these are sinful because they are contrary to God and His will.
Jesus, as the physician of our souls, takes the first step here of diagnosing our problem: sin. But how can we be healed from such sins? That’s a complex answer but also a simple one: turn every day to Christ and cry out in your sin for deliverance from them. The answer is to mortify the things of the flesh and to put on the New Man, Jesus Christ.
But since this itself is such a difficult thing and hard to continue to focus on, I’d like to discuss one way we can put Jesus’ words into effect.
I believe that there are things that can come in from the outside and corrupt us. Jesus is not really speaking of these things here. But we’re all aware that the things we expose ourselves to exert an enormous influence over what we think and how we act. What we take into us, through the people around us, the things we read, the media we “eat,” can make us unclean, if they lead us to sin.
While the medium of moving pictures is itself a lawful pleasure, the content of many movies and its effect on our lives is something we should be concerned might possibly pollute us. Most movies, TV shows, music, etc. work on us indirectly. We are so engaged by the story or actors or visuals or music that often we don’t examine what it is that we’re taking into us.
I remember having my high school seniors at a Christian school vote on whether or not the adulterers in The Scarlet Letter, Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne, should go through with their plan to get back with each other and run off together. Out of about 30 students, only one thought they shouldn’t. Then I reminded them that Hester was still married to Chillingworth and that this would constitute adultery. “Oh yeah,” they said.
But we are to make covenants with our eyes (Job 31:1) and guard what we let inside us.
One of my least favorite commercials ever was one for Valtrex, a drug for genital herpes. A cute, young couple is on the screen. They’re biking together and leading active lives. Spring is in full bloom. They speak in pleasant, mellow, smiling voices. But my paraphrase of what they’re really saying is: “We enjoy fornication. Even though I’ve got genital herpes and the person I’m shacking up with doesn’t (yet), we’re going to continue to live in sin. There’s this great new drug, Valtrex. Sure, it doesn’t always work, and sure we don’t know what terrible side effects it might have years later that we’ll have to sue the company over. So we’re going to continue to play Russian roulette with our bodies and souls. Hopefully, Valtrex will help us take at least one round out of the chamber the next time we pull the trigger.”
The commercial (not my “paraphrase” but the actual commercial) would be surreal – except we’ve gotten too used to things like it. “It’s just a commercial!” I can hear some of you saying. But the commercials and other things we allow into our lives are having an effect, especially on young people.
Guard your hearts, for it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of him from his heart.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank You for creating this good world through Your Son, Jesus Christ, and I rejoice in the life You have given me. Forgive me for allowing unclean things into myself and for allowing unclean things to go out from my heart. Deliver me from evil today. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
Point for Meditation:
Honestly consider your use of media. If you’re taking inside of you certain music, TV shows, books, or movies is leading you into temptation, reconsider your use of them.
Resolution: I resolve to examine myself and identify one way that unclean things are coming out of me. I further resolve to repent of this sin.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day