The Heart’s Desire

This weekend, our lectionary has us leaving the Gospel of John, after five weeks of almost excruciating discourse on Jesus’ identity as The Bread of Life, and entering into twelve weeks of gospel readings from Mark.

For the remainder of the season of Pentecost, we go back to Mark. Even though we’ve left the difficult language about eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood—and how observant Jews hearing that language would have bristled at it—Mark continues dealing with the concept of uncleanliness, in one form or another, for the next couple of weeks. This morning, Mark presents what he understands as true defilement in and through his ongoing conflict with the Pharisees and hopefully teaches his community about the hypocrisy of which they are all capable.

Parushi. It means “those who are separated.” The Pharisees were a devout group of former scribes, who distinguished themselves from the rest of their brethren by believing that all Jews were bound to observe purity laws—laws that originally were meant for the priestly class serving inside the Temple. The Pharisees became strict observers of, and strict experts on, what those laws said and meant and felt it their sacred call to make sure the priestly class was not the only group of people performing the rituals and ceremonies of Jewish life. To them, the Law was everything and following it the duty and call of every Jew, not just those serving in inherited positions in the Temple. All Jews were to be separated out as distinct and holy people, following distinct, holy laws.

We see Jesus in conflict with the Pharisees throughout the gospels. Mostly, the Pharisees see Jesus and his followers as blasphemers, saying and doing things that only God would say and do. They constantly challenge Jesus, especially when he is embracing his full identity as the Chosen One of God, and Jesus constantly rebukes them about their self-righteousness and hypocrisy. We hear it plainly enough in Mark this morning:

“….this people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human traditions.”

He then goes on to teach the crowd and the disciples that defilement is not about eating with dirty hands, or letting someone suffer on the sabbath, or paying taxes to Caesar or any of the other things they challenge him with. Jesus makes it quite clear that uncleanliness and defilement, impurity of thought and of life, come from twisted places inside the human heart and in observing laws made by humans instead of the laws of the Spirit. Jesus is not interested in what we eat or how we eat it. He’s interested in how we’re living in our hearts and that we’re allowing our insides to match our outsides.

Theologian and author Elizabeth Webb says that by the end of the passage for today, Jesus has turned the whole notion of consumption that defiles on its head. The list of sins Mark presents isn’t something we’ve never heard; there are other similar lists in scripture, particularly in some of the epistles. But it does add another layer of meaning to Jesus’ message. “Each of these particular vices is,” she says, “in some way, a sin of consumption. Adultery, theft, avarice, envy, pride — each of these springs from a desire to take, to grasp, to own, to devour. It turns out that our consumption (or lack thereof) does affect our hearts. If our desire for self-satisfaction is allowed to run rampant, we become insatiable consumers: of things most definitely, but also of pleasure, of people, even of our own energy.” And I would add of God’s Creation. The corruption of the human heart is rooted in overblown desire, which is of course rooted in fear: the fear of not having enough, the fear of not being enough.

I’ve been wondering, after reflecting on all of this this week, where my own hypocrisy and self-righteousness lie. Do my outsides match my insides and my insides my outsides? Is the life I’m living in my heart reflected in the life I’m living in the world and vice versa? Where are the places in my life where I’m behaving a little too much like a Pharisee and not enough like Jesus? The challenge is, of course, to be less consumptive and more reflective. To take fewer and fewer things for granted and to be more and more grateful for the gifts I’m given. To pay less attention to the things that really don’t’ matter and more attention to the life-giving moments that sometimes escape me.

Will we live from a place of scarcity and fear, consuming beyond our true need and in the process, losing sight of what really matters? Or will we change the focus of our lives to reflect Jesus’ life-giving presence in our midst? What is, really, our heart’s desire?