September 2, 2018 Reflection
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23/ James 1:19-27
What Goes In or What Comes Out
While I was learning about the history of France, I learned that, in the Renaissance period, perfumes were used to mask body odours, and became highly successful during the 17th Century; I think this is because the Palace of Versailles didn’t have bathrooms, besides the body odour problem. But as I learn this knowledge, I found myself saying, “Really? You smell bad because of your bad sanitary practices, and you use perfume to mask it? Really?” I mean, we may be able to mask the odour if no one comes too close to us, but we can’t get rid of it unless we actually get rid of the source. Washing with soap and water can get rid of body odour. I don’t remember if it was in a movie or a TV show, but there was a man trying to impress a woman; he asked her, “What perfume are you wearing?” The woman said, “Soap.” The truth is, body odour can only be removed by washing; getting rid of the source. Masking the odour with perfume? My attitude is about it is, “Who are you kidding?”
Why did I start my message with the subject of body odour and perfume? Because in today’s gospel text, Jesus has a debate (to put is mildly) about some of the Jewish rules on purity, which are, trust me, extensive and crazy. A little background information; what we call the Jewish Law is what the Jewish people received from the leadership of Moses and the religious leaders who recorded the teachings of Moses after the time of Moses (the five books of Moses/ the first five books of the Bible). But some legal scholars who are called the scribes didn’t think those rules were detailed enough. So, they interpreted, expanded, and specified the Law, making it longer and even more complicated. These subsections added to the Law by the scribes are called the tradition of the elders. The Jewish Law contains a whole big section about what is clean or unclean. When the Jewish Law speaks of purity, it has nothing to do with hygienic cleanness; it is purely ritual/ religious. The rules about ritually washing one’s hands before eating, which starts off today’s gospel debate, has very long sub-rules about the positions of the hands when washing, about how to handle the container of water, and so on. And this is only one small part of the extensive rules.
At this point, I am thinking, “No wonder Pharisees and scribes were enslaved by their rules and lost sight of the big picture!” When the Jews received the Law from God and Moses, the point of it was that God’s chosen people should live together in harmony, in a loving relationship with God and their fellow humans. With the added rules, the tradition of the elders, Jewish people started experiencing a badly spinning head because how can anyone keep up and not violate any of those million rules? They were so obsessed with the details of individual trees that they lost the ability to see the whole forest and enjoy it. They get exhausted trying to keep up, and their religious leaders start judging others based on people’s ability to obey all those rules. Today’s Jews are still driven by the Law and the tradition of the elders that they received from their ancestors. But Jesus taught us that we will be judged by our acts of love and compassion, not by our obedience to the ancient Jewish law. Listen to what Jesus taught to his followers at the end of this conflict/ debate; “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” The Pharisees would have judged people who defiled their bodies by eating ritually unclean food or preparing and serving food “the wrong way”, such as in an unclean container. But Jesus is saying, it’s not what we put into our bodies that defiles us, but what comes out of us, all the evil things such as anger, hatred, pride, and so on.
Okay, fine, we get it; but there is one thing to consider as we receive this teaching of Jesus. Evil things will come out of us if we have evil things inside us, and good things will come out if we have good things in us. Love, compassion, and gentleness cannot come out of us if we are filled with hatred, selfishness, and anger. In Matthew chapter 7, Jesus teaches that thorns cannot produce grapes and thistles cannot produce figs. If we want to produce grapes, we have to be vine trees. That is where today’s lesson from the Book of James come in. Verse 21 and 22 mention getting rid of the evil things and not deceiving ourselves by being the hearer of the Word and not doers. Remember the old French people who used perfumes to “mask” their body odours and not to “get rid of” them? I said, “Who are you kidding?” and the author of the Book of James said, “Do not deceive yourselves”; same thing.
Jesus called us to live in harmony with each other with humility and compassion. Therefore, we need to fill ourselves with humility, compassion, and God’s humble, gentle, and unconditional love. But, going back to last Sunday’s message, who makes this transformation happen? God does. Who invited us and moved our hearts to join God’s community of love and justice? God did. Today, we are welcoming another of God’s beautiful creature into God’s community with a baptism. As we welcome Baby Charlee among us, let us use this opportunity to reflect on our own baptism and identity as God’s children. Let us trust and ask God to fill us with more love, gentleness, and humility so that we can bring God’s reign in our earthly community. Ask and God will give. Knock and God will open the door. Especially this week, join me in focusing our prayers on asking for more humility, gentleness, and compassion.
Rev. Sunny Kim