“Isaiah prophesied rightly 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 human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Mark 7:6-8 NRSV
In this brief passage Jesus is speaking to a group of Pharisees, rebuking them for focusing on Mosaic tradition and food purity laws rather than the content of their hearts.
Jesus goes on to tell them it is not what we eat, but rather what we hold in our hearts and thence broadcast into the world that defines our adherence to divine law.
“For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come,” Jesus tells us. From the selfish, world-facing desires of our human heart — from our ego — spring “fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.”
It is easy for us to delight in Jesus’s rebuke of the Pharisees, to hold ourselves above their hypocrisy. But, Jesus was not just talking to the Pharisees — he was speaking even more so to the disciples, which includes us, if we call ourselves Christian.
As Christians we put a great deal of emphasis on worship and praise. These are wonderful, and we should honor God, but if our words are rooted in self-interest rather than the Kingdom of God, then they are worse than useless – they are hypocritical, and an affront to the Divine. It would be better to remain silent than to praise God with a heart that desires our own will above that of the Almighty.
It’s okay to wish good things for ourselves. But we must understand that our hearts point down one of two paths: toward self-interest, fear, and greed, from which are born all the evils listed above; or, toward Christ, toward the eternal life of the Spirit, and in the hope of a Kingdom that will reign in peace, love and justice among all people. One path clings to the shallow baubles of the physical world. The other is the path of surrender. And in that surrender we find rewards of the spirit, far richer than anything found in human tradition.
Lord, help us to open our hearts to you, that we may draw closer to you and live in the Spirit which both transcends and transforms this world. Amen.