Things That Come From Within
This reading follows the passage where Jesus admonishes the Pharisees for their hypocrisy after they questioned him about his disciples not washing their hands before a meal. It carries the idea a little further. Again, the problem Jesus is addressing here is our tendency to turn human ideas into precepts that gradually become more important to us than God’s laws. When these human precepts begin to take on more importance than God’s law, and have become mere ritual requirements, they take our attention away from God rather than toward him. When we judge others based on these human precepts, not seeing our own failures in even more important matters, this is hypocrisy and it is spiritually dangerous to our souls.
The Pharisees enforced the laws about which foods could be eaten and which would be ritually defiling if eaten, as well as the laws about ritual washings of hands and cups, with both force and fear. They judged and condemned others for even small slights of these laws, but did not see their own far greater failings in justice towards others. Jesus was challenging them again here with their hypocrisy. He was trying to get them to see the truth that we are not defiled by eating certain foods, or by making a mistake in some ritual action or another. Rather, it is that which comes out of our individual human hearts, that which is without God, without love, without mercy or justice, that defiles both ourselves and others. Things like ʺevil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.ʺ (Mk. 7:21-23)
Have we ever heard those words in church and felt like shrinking, hoping that our particular sin might not be mentioned, or even feeling a little relief that drinking and smoking weren’t mentioned? Worse yet, have we sat there smugly thinking that these words of Jesus are really addressed to those ʺothersʺ sitting around us. Is it not funny how we can see the sins of others so readily and, yet, be utterly blind to our own. How often are we guilty of judging others out of some jealousy, or anger that is seething within our own hearts, not seeing that that jealousy or anger is a matter of sin, within us, that is far greater than that of which we are accusing the other?
I read a spiritual reflection recently that gave an account of a spiritually strong individual who, while at prayer one day, came to the shocking realization that she was a Pharisee, that she was guilty of judging others, not trusting in God. She realized, too, that that was a graced moment for her. This is a thought worth contemplating. If you think you are a Pharisee, you most surely are not. For the Pharisees remained blind to the accusation of hypocrisy that Jesus was challenging them with. They refused to see it. On the other hand, and this is good for all of us to think about, if you think you are not a Pharisee, that there is none of the Pharisee in you, you might very well be in serious danger of losing your soul. The truth is that we are all hypocrites at one time or another. But to see it in ourselves, as if in a mirror, as painful as that might be, is a moment of grace indeed. To see its ugliness in the form of our own face, our own words, can turn us humbly toward Jesus for the liberating balm of forgiveness, but also for the grace to become more humble, more understanding, more compassionate, and more forgiving of others. This is the road to happiness. This is the narrow path leading to the narrow gate we all desire to enter through when death comes for us.
Let us, then, pray for the grace of this ʺinʺsight, to see our own hypocrisy, for the courage to turn away from it, and for the humility to turn toward the saving power of Jesus with all our being. Amen.