After a five week sojourn through the Gospel of John and Jesus’ teaching that He is greater than Moses, that He is the Living Bread sent down from heaven, and that He will give His flesh and His blood for His own, we return to the immediacy and no-nonsense of Mark. Just to remind you, Mark uses “immediately” even more than John uses “bread.”
Today, we get this wonderful encounter and discussion of defilement, along with an idiom that out to really cause us to gag. Stewart was giving me a bit of grief a few weeks ago, wishing I would preach more on my experience in Rome. I told Stewart that, in many ways, I was still thinking about and praying about the things I had witnessed and heard. If those things were too much for me, I could only imagine how hard they would be for those of us at Advent. But I told him to be patient, eventually I would probably find the need to use those experiences and tales as sermon or teaching illustrations. Such happens today.
One of the stories I heard while eating in the dining hall where Francis spent much of his time prior to his elevation as Pope, was his tendency to walk around saying “Skubala happens” in Spanish or Portuguese. To those describing the events to me, it was yet another reason why, in their minds, Francis should not have been elected pope. I suppose, in their minds, I was supposed to be offended at Francis’ earthy words. Unfortunately for them, I had spent some time in locker rooms and in the pit of brokerage offices, two locations renowned for their dialects of earthy language. Only a few of you are laughing, so I guess I need to back up and do a bit more instruction about Jesus’ teaching today.
In addressing the crowds about the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus uses some earthy language. In fact, he paints an amusing mental image of the Pharisees and the scribes in the minds of those who hear His teaching. As we have read this morning, the Pharisees and scribes spent a great deal of time trying to convince the Jews that “cleanliness was next to godliness.” There is a certain logic to their position. Before sacrifices and attendance at Temple worship, one needed to be washed. That’s part of the reason why no one hearing Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan would have expected the Levite or priest to help the injured and beaten man. Women who had given birth or after their monthly cycle needed to be cleansed before they could return to the community of faith. There were some significant requirements about washing in the torah.
As we can see from Mark’s parenthetical remark, though, the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ day took those teachings and expanded them. They washed the food, the pots, the kettles, and any number of items. Imagine a bunch germaphobes tasked with the proclamation of God’s teaching, and that is sort of the situation we find ourselves in as we return to Mark today.
Those germaphobes, of course, notice that these disciples of this Nazarene Hick do not observe the washing. So they call Jesus out on it, in full view of the crowds and disciples. We do not understand the battle for credibility occurring in this passage today, particularly since we have left Mark for five weeks. When we last left Mark, Jesus was healing people. Even those who touched only the hem of His cloak were healed of their diseases and infirmities. Something wonderful is happening. But the Pharisees and scribes will not accept it. They hear the stories, they hear the testimony; but they reject it. Who is this man? Where does He think He has the right to do these things? So they point out that His disciples do not fastidiously wash everything before eating. As the rabbi, Jesus is responsible for the behavior of His disciples. Since they are not behaving rightly, Jesus must be a fraud or charlatan.
After pointing out Isaiah’s prophesy about them, Jesus moves on to this wonderfully graphic image. Better still, He gives the teaching to the crowd. I remember the first time I read this passage in Greek. There is a process that appears which should not be there. I should preface that by saying I was raised in my early life on a KJV Bible with red letters. We knew what was important because it was in red! Ah, now you all are laughing.
Anyway, one of the difficulties with reading the gospels in Greek is that they are pretty well known. As I got to this point, I knew what was said. There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. It seems like an inoffensive teaching, does it not? But we skip a great deal of the passage today. What Jesus describes around this passage is a bit more graphic than we would like to believe Jesus would ever discuss, let alone use to teach. Jesus goes so far to paint the mental picture for His disciples. Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body. Ah, I see the squirms. Jesus is describing eating and going to the bathroom.
Notice how He uses this as an illustration. Can we eat anything that defiles us? No. When we eat something, even something with dirt or worse on it, it passes through the stomach and out of the body. It can make us sick, but the food never passes through the heart. Paul will use the word skubala to describe what is produced by the body or the world. Jesus instructs His disciples that it is those things which come from the heart which defile us. But see the image He creates. Although we have skipped the passages, Jesus compares the list of sins to “that which is excreted from the body after eating.” The image is unmistakable. We are not the only ones to have an understanding of “diarrhea of the mouth,” but we usually confine its use to those who cannot shut up. Jesus is using that image to teach us of the origins of evil, the human heart, and how the exercise of those sins defile us before God.
Now I see you get the Pope’s comment. Skubala does indeed happen.
Jesus, in today’s reading addresses three different groups in three different ways. For the first group, the Pharisees and scribes, He shows them how their practice of piety has choked out all possibility of creating a heart that loves God in accord with the shema. In fact, their petty cleanliness has created an obstacle to those whom they are supposed to lead in a right relationship with God. Although we skip the teaching on Corban, Jesus uses that as an easy example of elevating human tradition above God’s revelation to the point that one of the Ten Words (Honor your father and your mother) can be ignored. The Pharisees and scribes, of course, were not interested in learning what God wants or expects. The miracles which testify to Jesus and His mission are lost on them. More’s the pity because they, as students of the torah and the prophets, should have recognized Him.
The crowd, of course, gets a direct teaching. Jesus instructs the crowd that only those things which come from within can defile a human. Can you imagine the anger and ire of the Pharisees and scribes? Jesus has just instructed them that washing themselves, their food, and their pots are unimportant to God. To make matters worse, He seems to have the signs of power, of God’s favor, on Him. And there He stands, telling the crowds that what spews from their mouth is feces!
The graphic description, of course, is for His disciples in the privacy of the house. Even after this teaching, they still do not understand what Jesus means. Jesus paints a rather graphic picture. They, and we, should see fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, and folly as the equivalent of crap coming out of our mouth. It’s repellent, is it not? It’s disgusting, is it not? Yet that is the very impact those sins have on the world around us. Whenever we act in accord with these evil intentions, the world is rightly turned off by us and the Lord whom we claim to serve. Think I am crazy? Think of the television personality who publically cloaked himself in his faith and understanding of God’s will for marriage and family. Is his “outing” in the Ashley Madison hack drawing people to God’s instruction about marriage and family, or is it causing people to be repulsed? How about the clerk in the state to the north? In visibly and publicly renouncing to issue any marriage licenses, how is she drawing others to the embrace of our Lord on the Cross? In her claim to be the defender of God’s law on marriage, what has happened? People have looked at her life, at her behavior, and been repulsed as if she was spewing crap from her mouth. What of the pastor who said Jesus told him he needed a Leer jet? Never mind that one, I may have some further discernment to do to make my travels easy. . .
And, as much as we would like to pick on those others, those visible Christians, who cloak themselves outwardly in God’s righteousness, where do we Adventers fall short? Where do we, in our actions or lack thereof and in our words, demonstrate how far from God our hearts really are? Are we gossipers at work, thereby telling others we are slanderers? Do we take money or supplies from employers cognizant of the fact that we have not earned it, thereby telling others we are full of avarice or are thieves? Do we curse those who cut us off in traffic or ridicule people we see who do not act or dress like us, thereby telling others we are full of pride and murder? Now I see the squirms. It is fun to look at the sins of others, is it not? But it sure is not much fun to look at our own.
And what of our efforts to clean up our filth? How successful are we? To push Jesus’ illustration a bit further, all we can really do is clean up the mess afterwards. We can no more stop the evil in our hearts from spewing forth than we can stop the excrement following digestion from exiting the body. We might even be really good at cleaning up those messes in our own eye, but really we are like children. When we hurt someone, when we disparage someone, whenever we sin against someone, the effects of those sins usually linger. Even if the other against whom we sinned is inclined to forgive us, how easy is it for them to forget what we have done? Heck, how well do we forgive or forget those evils done against us? I suppose I need a fancy Greek word for skidmarks.
Much of Jesus’ teaching these last five weeks has dealt with teaching His people, us, of their/our need for redeeming grace. We can no more change our hearts than we can feed 5000 men besides women and children. It takes His blood to wash us clean. It takes His flesh to circumcise our fleshy hearts and bow our stiff necks. In short, combatting evil requires the permanent, indwelling Spirit of God within us, a possibility made possible only through Christ’s redeeming work. And, we are told, that Spirit’s presence will be proclaimed to the world in how we interact with others, not only by our words but also by our actions. Are we welcoming, or are we judgmental? Are we edifying or are we critical? Are we drawing into His embrace, or are we driving people away?
As with all sermons, and in accord with Him whom I serve, I am not here to condemn you this morning.
No doubt many of you came to church today exited to see people and catch up on one another’s stories from the summer. The last thing you wanted, and perhaps the last thing you expected, was a little “potty humor” and a call to self-examination. Today sort of kicks off the fall for Advent, I am told, as we gather to eat and to celebrate Rally Day. What better way to examine whether we are living a life that leads others to God or living a life that fulfills Jesus’ teaching about the defilement within us. As we finish today, we will head over to the parish hall and to the pavilion. There will be lots of ministries on display and lots of opportunities for those of us present to serve God through work here at Advent. I hear there will be some great food and better fellowship. In between, though, you will have the opportunity to explore some ministries. You will be able to ask men and women with whom you have travelled this road of faith for some time about the ministries that impassion them. Some of the opportunities will be more internal, reading, setting up the altar, praying, and studying, but many of the opportunities will be external. All, of course, exist as evidence that this parish family has been strengthened, aroused, and restored. All the ministries in which we engage are meant either to improve the worship of God or to serve better those in our community who need to be reminded of His love. Perhaps in years past, you have meant to sign up but got busy. Perhaps in years past you wanted to sign up but were afraid you lacked a skill or knowledge. Perhaps in years past you believed yourself too wounded ever to be His hands and His feet in the world around you. Why not make the decision to really embrace the Lord’s call on your life? If the same old, same old has left you with nothing but skidmarks, why not try things a bit differently? Neither I nor He is calling you to do everything, but I am certain He is calling you to do at least one thing. Why not give up that fleshy heart and allow Him to begin to truly transform your heart? Why not serve Him in others, either within this community or without, and see what cleanliness is really like!