Sunday, August 30, 2009

Are You Also Without Understanding?

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 30, 2009
Mark 7:14-23

There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.

Mark says the disciples asked Jesus about His little parable. I wonder what they asked. They had just seen the Pharisees go down in flames, Jesus upholding the action of the disciples in eating with unwashed hands. Now Jesus speaks to everyone within earshot this little parable. Were the disciples embarrassed to ask Jesus what He meant by that? Or did they maybe want to preserve Jesus’ honor by challenging Him in private: Jesus, You’ll have to convince us of that. Whether they were honestly trying to understand or they simply recoiled at the notion Jesus put forth, the result was the same: they were without understanding. As if that weren’t enough, they now came to find out that there was nothing within them consonant with the will of God—there was only their own depravity.

Jesus had made clear that even stellar actions on the part of the Pharisees could not cover up their hearts which were far from God. They placed their own ideals above the Word of God. They sought their righteousness in themselves, not in God and His Son Jesus Christ.

The disciples? They were still hangin’ with Jesus. Jesus had not blasted them as He had the Pharisees. But then Jesus had to go on talking, this time to the disciples; and to everybody else. He now made clear to them that they understood no better than the Pharisees had. There was nothing within them that was any better than what was in the hearts of the Pharisees. The disciples maybe were now wishing they hadn’t asked.

We don’t know how this episode ended. Did Jesus continue on with His explanation? Did He immediately leave the house, giving the disciples a chance to mull His words over? Did the disciples continue to question Him, trying better to understand this major blow to them? We don’t know. All we’re left with are the words He spoke to them, and they don’t exactly make us feel warm and fuzzy. We’re left simply with this: we are utterly corrupt from our hearts, and left to ourselves we design and conspire to feed our sinful flesh whatever the cost.

We’re not only left hanging—Jesus blasting us away and our utterly depraved hearts—the very next thing we find is that He goes away from there to another place. And He was specifically trying to get away from people. As you might expect, His plan failed. A woman came right on in where He was and pleaded for help for her daughter who was demon possessed. It’s apparent why she was doing this. She knew she was powerless over the grip Satan had on her daughter. Her daughter was powerless, she was powerless. Her only hope was in Jesus. He had power over Satan. He alone could release the girl from the grip of Satan. He shows us how He exercises this power over Satan, with His Word. He declares to the woman that her daughter is freed from the demon.

What could help us understand what Jesus is getting at when He says three times in our Gospel reading that it is what comes out of our heart that defiles us? That our sinful flesh has a grip on us as Satan did on that little girl. That we are in fact without understanding, even thinking that we can’t be all that bad. Aren’t there some things that come from our heart that are good? Or are we really as corrupt as Jesus makes us out to be?

In seeing the hold Satan had on that little girl we see the hold our sinful flesh has on us. With Jesus showing the power of His Word over Satan, to release her from Satan, we see the power of Jesus’ Word over our sinful flesh, to release us from it.

Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging, after all. He is intent on getting the message across. How much would we see the need for His death and resurrection, His Baptism He washes us with, His Body and Blood He gives us for forgiveness, without understanding the depth of our depravity—which is total.

The Old Testament reading draws the line in the sand in the same way: “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.” When obvious examples are known to the world, it’s easy for us to understand that some, such as the church body the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have departed from the Word of God; thrown it under the bus for the sake of the tradition of being tolerant and nonjudgmental and working toward compromise and consensus. Declaring something to not be a sin—namely, homosexuality—when the Word of God plainly declares it to be a sin comes from the depraved heart of man. We rightly see this as a travesty.

What may not be so clear to us is that we also are without understanding when it comes to such things. That it is out of our hearts that come the very same things. Jesus makes it clear that there aren’t some who are virtuous while others are in the doghouse. Look at His list. You can’t read it and escape the truth that you’re included. It all begins with our evil machinations within us, scheming to fudge the rules. Waiting for the chance to park your car in front of your neighbor’s house because you’re sick and tired of him parking his five cars in front of your house. Scheming for a way to get an undue advantage over your coworker in order to get a raise or a promotion. Jesus’ list isn’t just for those people out there who have publicly disdained the Word of God, but also for those of us in here who have disdain for them and haughtiness of ourselves, glad that we are not like them. This is the foolishness Jesus is talking about to close out His list, that we are somehow exempt from all the rest. He asks of us today: Are you also without understanding?

May we answer in humility, Yes, Lord, we too are without understanding. We too have thrown Your Word under the bus. We need to be here. To hear Your Word and trust in it alone. We need to approach Your altar in meekness but also expectancy, with a hunger and joy to receive Your very Body and Blood as food to our soul. We confess to You, O Lord, that out of our heart comes nothing good and everything evil, but as You, as we prayed earlier in the Collect, are the source of all that is just and good, we pray You to nourish in us every virtue and bring to completion every good intent that we may grow in grace and bring forth the fruit of good works.

Jesus did this for a little girl right after the words He spoke in our Gospel reading. He does this for you today and each day, as you are Baptized—given a new heart, a new mind, a new life. Amen.


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