Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Mark 7:14-23
Jesus is something of a pessimist today. He has a rather low view of all the things that come from the heart. He says that what actually comes from the heart is every kind of evil, and that these evil things defile you. But please, please, don’t let that give you the wrong idea. Jesus Christ loves you, heart and soul, body and spirit. He is not some scoffing Pharisee, or some far-off, self-protecting god. He gave his life to fill you with his own love, so that you might live your life undefiled.
Last week we baptized little Owen Durney Tye, and before we did, we served the devil an eviction notice in the form of an exorcism. (We used Luther’s baptismal rite, and) We said, “Depart, you unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit,” which helps us understand our gospel today, and next Sunday. Today, Jesus lists all the things that come from the heart—that are inside each of us by nature—and next week in the gospel, he will perform an exorcism on a little girl. So, what comes from the heart is cast out by Jesus.
And just like that little girl, when we baptized Owen last week, Jesus changed the contents of his heart. He was under the power of the devil; now he is a son of God. He was unclean; now he has been washed. He was of this world; and now his body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. (And as with Owen, so with each one of you.)
And that all should come as very good news, that Jesus can change the contents of one’s heart, that he can bring something new, because if the words from the gospel today are any guide, we know that what comes from the heart will only ever defile. In fact, these things that come from the heart destroy.
Aaron Stark is a married father of four today (living somewhere in Colorado, I think), but on a certain day back in the mid nineties, he bought a gun with evil intentions. Because his life was a wreck, and his family was in shambles, he says, he had no reason left to live, and he had such anger in his heart, and such pain, that he felt he just had to let it out.
But it was the love of a dear friend (and really just the simple kindness of asking him over to watch a movie) that changed his mind that day—and saved him, and untold others, from the evil in his heart.
So, the words of Jesus today are no small matter. Being defiled is dangerous. (Being defiled by evil, by murderous anger or covetousness or sexual immorality or pride or deceit) is no small matter. Everyone is not an Aaron Stark, but like him, the evil in our hearts wants to be expressed. It wants to come out, and when it does, it always destroys.
When confronted with all of this, it is only natural to play the Pharisee. Their answer to a world gone wrong was to wash their hands, to protect themselves—to draw lines in the sand and keep their distance.
Today talk abounds of security protocols and contingency plans: of see-through backpacks, and armed personnel, and a thousand ways to protect ourselves—which, please understand, is all well and good (we rightly strive to protect those entrusted to our care). But in the gospel Jesus reminds us that all of this protecting will never be a solution, will never change the contents of the heart. It will never bring something new.
What is needed for that is, instead, someone willing not to wash his hands—someone willing and able to leave himself unprotected, and to cross that line in the sand. Jesus today is a pessimist about the human heart but this doesn’t inspire caution in Jesus; he is the one to cross the line. He is the one who sees so clearly the evil within us, and he is the one so eager to enter our darkness—not with guns blazing, but, of all things, with mercy. He gets his hands dirty. He performs exorcisms, he dines with sinners and touches lepers; he meets the devil on his own turf (but with an arsenal of divine love).
Jesus has not retired from this work. He still sends the devil packing; he still offers his healing touch; he still prepares a feast for sinners. This is the place where Jesus Christ still loves you heart and soul, body and spirit. And he begins by giving us a safe place to put all of the evil that comes from our hearts—a place where it will not destroy us.
Confession and Absolution is something like an exorcism. It calls us to speak out of ourselves all of our evil, to empty ourselves of our guilt and shame, and all of the things that defile us. And all this we do in the presence of the one who gave his life for us—who is not some self-protecting, far-off god, but who loves you however defiled you may be.
Being defiled in this world is dangerous, but what we find in Jesus is someone willing and able to change the contents of our hearts, to make our bodies temples for his Holy Spirit, to forgive us our sins and fill us with his own holiness, that we might live our lives, at last, undefiled.