Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 43; 149, Genesis 47:27-48:7, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Mark 7:1-23
Most of us identify the “self” with the brain or head. Our physical voice resonates inside our skull, so we assign that same voice to our mental life. Hearing our own recorded voice can be shocking; because it differs so greatly from what we expect, the experience can border on identity crisis. However, this sense of identity belonging to the head is not universal. Cultures have placed the self in the heart, the kidneys, and elsewhere. Helen Keller wrote of her pre-lingual existence: “If I had made a man, I should certainly have put the brain and soul in his finger-tips.”
What organs best describe our faith experience?
Do we rely on our gut? Instinct is a fine survival tool, but doesn’t always align with faith. The instinct to fit into our tribe is so strong that we can elevate tribal traditions to immutable laws and ostracize those who don’t follow along. For example, the Jewish people practiced ceremonial hand-washing before meals. It was not a religious law, but a human one. When the Pharisees and scribes accused the disciples of disrespecting tradition by not washing their hands, Jesus pointed out how the religious leaders truly disrespected God by rationalizing away his commands.
The Pharisees relied on brainpower to the detriment of their souls. They allowed some Jews to dodge financial support of their parents – part of God’s command to honor them – by pledging money or property to the temple, thereby making it unavailable for other use. This clever ploy – benefiting both the pledger and the temple – was within the letter of the law, but far from its spirit. The brain may love a faith full of loopholes, but Jesus doesn’t.
Jesus taught faith comes from the heart. Regarding Jewish dietary laws, he said everything that enters the body is destined for the sewer, so it can not defile us, but if our heart generates wickedness, we are defiled from within. Our physical hearts have tremendous influence on our brain function. Our spiritual hearts should similarly influence our minds and guts away from defilement toward true faith and love.
Comfort: Christ’s law is love.
Challenge: It can be easy to vilify the Pharisees and distance ourselves from them. Like us, they were products of their culture. Try reading today’s passage from Mark with some sympathy for the Pharisees and ask yourself what cultural traditions are more important to you than they need to be.
Prayer: Create in me a clean heart, O God. May my mind and will always be in your service. Amen.
Discussion: Have you ever been surprised to learn something you thought had religious roots was only a local tradition?
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