I'm on the road again! This time I am in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. I just drove down the Schuylkill Expressway and found my metaphor in the fast lane for this weekend's Gospel reflection. If you've never driven on this particular road let me say it is definitely on the list to avoid, especially in rush hour. You just get caught up in the stream of traffic and hope for the best. This morning I got behind a car in the left lane that was traveling well below the speed limit. Everybody else was weaving around us and I was pretty frustrated when I finally passed the car on the right. "IT'S A WOMAN!" I grumbled.
Now before you go off on me and my ignorant chauvinism please let me make a point that might help clarify Jesus' point in this weekend's Gospel.
When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. —For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. — So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
He 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. “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
This is one of the confrontations between Jesus and the leaders in Jerusalem that points to the fundamental relationship between faith and tradition. Jesus continually pointed out the hypocrisy of strict adherence to “human precepts”. Keep in mind that this is not a question of either/or. Jesus is making the critical point that the heart is the key to our faith. But what exactly did the word “heart” mean in Jesus’ time?
According to Vine’s New Testament Dictionary, the Greek word kardia (2588), rendered “heart” (English, “cardiac,”), is the chief organ of physical life (“for the life of the flesh is in the blood,” Lev. 17:11), occupies the most important place in the human system. By an easy transition, the word came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements.
It is important to understand that when Jesus says, “their hearts are far from me” that He is referring to the whole of the inner being. In Biblical times, the heart was the symbolic center of the human person. There was no differentiation between heart, soul and mind, as we understand today. Why is all of this important? Because it points to an all too common misunderstanding of what should drive us in our “religious” pursuits. The bottom line is adherence to religious standards must flow from a heart given over to God.
When we come into relationship with Christ our hearts, our inner beings, are changed. It isn’t enough to simply be good at following the rules. We must first follow the Ruler. Notice that the hypocrites who are questioning the behaviors of Jesus’ followers are themselves followers of the rules. When we behave in “evil” ways we can be assured that while our behavior is from within it is coming from us and not God.
Now let's go back to my behavior this morning. This "woman" was not following the rules of the road that require slower moving vehicles to be in the right lane. I was right in what was causing my frustration. However, what came out of me was definitely wrong. My heart was far from Jesus. I need to remember that all the time. And it probably wouldn't hurt to get out of the fast lane once in awhile!