Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
In the lesson from Deuteronomy, Moses challenges the people to be faithful and careful in keeping the commandments of the Lord their God. He notes that to do so makes a powerful living witness to the surrounding nations, who will see the wisdom and truth of God’s ways being followed.
In Mark 7, Jesus replies to the challenge of religious leaders who observed the failure of some of his disciples to carefully observe the purity rituals (hand washing) commanded in the law of Moses. Having pointed out the failure of these same leaders to keep major commandments (in the verses omitted for this week and elsewhere), Jesus declares that what is important is not outward ritual purity but the inner purity of the heart.
James 1:17-27 describes how a holy or clean life is characterized by actions that reflect and fulfill the intentions of God. We are not to be “hearers who forget” but “doers who act” – much like the saying that we must “walk the talk.” He gives an example: to care for the weakest and most vulnerable people among you (in this case widows and orphans) reflects the word and heart of God.
Comment: I am moved by the penitential phrase from the Prayer Book during the recitation of the Ten Commandments: “Lord Have Mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” It is all about the heart, and my heart is fickle. Saint Paul described this so well when he confesses in Romans 7, “The very thing I know is good, I find that I don’t do…and the thing I know is wrong, I find that I do it” (my paraphrase). In the end, your and my hope is in Christ who offers us his own purity of heart and ready obedience to the Father. It is for us to receive this gift and allow it to grow ever more active in us, even as we recognize and confess the ways we fail!