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Wednesday, February 8th, 2023 Gospel Reflection
Jesus 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.”
When we read this Gospel from the perspective of a 21st century Christian, this saying is not difficult. However, in the first century anno domini the Jews were still under the strict Mosaic Law which governed how one was to remain clean on the outside (such as ritual washing) as well as how one was to remain clean on the inside (not eating certain animals such as pig or shrimp).
In the Gospel, Mark records Jesus gathering together this crowd of people in response to the Pharisees who were complaining that Jesus’ disciples were eating with unwashed hands. What kind of rabbi would allow his disciples to ignore the Levitical rules and laws governing the ones who were to be the holiest among the Israelites? As a rabbi, Jesus was supposed to set an example of holiness to the Jews – how could he set the example if he was eating with unclean people, touching unclean people, and allowing his disciples to eat with unclean hands?
Jesus answers these questions by pointing to the crux of all that which is unclean and unholy: “But what comes out of the man, that is what defiles him. From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” (Mk 7:20-23)
As we are pondering the words of Jesus, let’s take a walk back to the beginning of time (and the first reading). “Out of the ground the LORD God made grow every tree that was delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Gen 2:9) We can find Eve standing in front of the forbidden tree. “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom.” (Gen 3:6)
As we prepare our hearts for Lent, let us bring the readings together. We are standing in the position of Eve with Life in Christ at one hand, and life in the world at the other. What is in our hearts? Are we grabbing for the tree of life or are we grabbing for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Jesus’ tells us, it’s our will that’s making this choice. Are we grabbing for humility and poverty of spirit or are we grabbing for prestige (arrogance) and money (greed)? Are we grabbing for chastity or are we grabbing for pornography (unchastity)? Where does your heart turn in moments of temptation? If your will is not turning towards Christ in the areas that he mentioned, this is the time to prepare. Make a good confession, prepare your attitude for the fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. The Church gives us these liturgical seasons to step away for a moment and gather ourselves back under the pinions of the Almighty. He is our refuge and our strength. “O bless the Lord, my soul! All creatures look to you to give them food in due time. When you give it to them, they gather it; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things!”
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