Jesus summoned the crowd again and said to them,—Mark 7:14–15, 20–23
“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.”
“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.”
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus continues His rebuke against the Pharisees after they had criticized Him for eating with unwashed hands, thus breaking with the tradition of the elders. He calls our attention to the fact that while the Pharisees are concerned with the outward appearances of keeping tradition down to the smallest detail, their inner souls are utterly neglected, and they allow evil thoughts to fester within themselves. Jesus calls us to look at the state of our hearts, for everything else we do flows forth from there. If our hearts are corrupted, then it doesn’t matter how well we attempt to follow the letter of the law; the spirit of the law will be absent.
As we approach Lent, this is a good reminder for us that whatever we give up or take on during this penitential season, the most important thing is the intentions of our hearts. Wherever we create spaces in our lives by giving something up, we are called to make room for God in our lives instead of immediately filling them up with other distractions. And when we take on new habits of prayer and service, we must always orient them within our relationship with God, so that we don’t get caught up in a mindset of constant busyness and self-improvement but rather rely on God to form our hearts into the people He created us to be. We must understand that holiness is not something we can achieve on our own by following a list of instructions; rather, it can only occur through relationship with God, by His grace and in His timing.
Whatever we do, let it be rooted in a sincere love for God from the heart. This Lent, instead of simply making our own plans, let us pause to ask God what He wants us to do for Lent. Maybe He will surprise us; maybe He will confirm and bless the plans we are already making; but most importantly, He will delight to see us coming to Him first and foremost, looking for His guidance instead of relying on our own capacities.
1. Engraving by A. Wierix, Christ shooting arrows into the believer’s heart / CC BY 4.0
2. Engraving by A. Wierix, Christ clearing demons out of the believer’s heart with a broom / CC BY 4.0
3. Engraving by A. Wierix, Christ enthroned in the believer’s heart, venerated by angels / CC BY 4.0
These files come from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. Refer to Wellcome blog post (archive).