Having clean hearts and words is what’s importantPublished 8:51am Friday, August 31, 2012
Across the Pastor’s Desk
By the Rev. Katie Fick, Hayward and Trondhjem Lutheran Churches
As I sat down at the Minnesota State Fair to chow down on a container of fried pickles, I was reminded of Jesus saying, “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” (Mark 7:15, NRSV)
I wonder if Jesus would say that to me knowing that I consumed mini donuts, cheese curds, fried pickles, chocolate cheesecake ice cream and about a gallon of diet soda and lemonade in the course of six hours. I watched my companions eat corn dogs, cheese curds, chocolate chip cookies and share a fried candy bar. We had fun, but our stomachs certainly felt defiled.
Of course, Jesus wasn’t talking about whether it is wise to consume so much fried food (note: it’s not). He was talking about what makes a person ritually clean and unclean before God.
The laws set forth in the Old Testament and expanded by the religious leaders of Jesus’ time were meant to set the Jewish people apart as God’s chosen ones who lived differently than their neighbors, in obedience to God.
There were things in these laws that could make you unclean if you ate them — pork, for example, or owl. By ingesting them you would become unclean before God and need to do a ritual cleansing.
There were also things you could touch in the course of a regular day that would make you unclean, and thus need a ritual hand cleansing to eat.
Jesus is implying that what is more important than keeping these laws is having clean hearts and words, because what we say and do to others matters. We can do good, or evil, no matter what we eat.
This whole discussion of defiling happens because some of Jesus’ disciples eat with ritually unclean hands. The proper thing to do would be a cleansing ritual, said with a blessing and prayer.
This is not a hard law to obey, and is not bad practice, either, having clean hands before you eat. It’s a good reminder that even when we eat we are the presence of God.
But since Jesus would also like us to be mindful that what comes out of us can defile, it seems to me that the thing to do would also be to confess and ask for forgiveness. If, in our daily lives with God we need to be less concerned about dirty hands and more concerned about dirty hearts, then it seems to me that each time we pray, even at a meal, it is a time not only to give thanks but to ask for forgiveness, to ask for help with cleaning that heart, and that what comes out of us is pleasing to God. And maybe even to give thanks for our baptism, that we remind ourselves that we have been made clean by Christ.
I still wouldn’t recommend eating cheese curds more than once a year.