We have a guest author on the blog this week, Rev. Tom Harr from Faith Presbyterian in Wilmington. Thanks, Tom!
The issue being debated in Mark 7 is what makes someone unclean in God’s eyes; what makes someone unacceptable to God. The Pharisees are blaming external things – you are unacceptable because of what you touch, where you go, what you eat. But Jesus says the problem is much more personal and what he says is startling. He says the problem is not outside us. It is us.
Now you may feel offended. “How dare you!” you say. Because this isn’t how people usually talk about wrongdoing. We are used to hearing people in public life calling the wrong things they have done a “mistake”—something that came upon them. But Jesus says that is nonsense. Sin is not something that we come across “out there” in which we are unintentionally caught. It is something that flows out of our heart. It comes out of us and we have to own up and take responsibility for it.
However, as you participate in and support the work of Good Neighbors, beware of a very dangerous tendency. This is what I mean: Without thinking, it’s often very easy to assume that there is a direct line to be drawn from a someone’s personal sin and their needy circumstances. In other words, we assume (even without thinking) that the person we are helping wouldn’t need our help if only that had made wiser decisions (for example, like us).
But while a person’s unwise (even sinful) decisions can certainly lead to circumstances of need, that’s not the point Jesus is making. Jesus’ debate here is with the Pharisees and teachers of the law (Mark 7:1) who often used the sin of “those people” to justify avoiding them, lest they be polluted themselves. But Jesus is saying to them that’s not how you get polluted. Sin affects us from the inside—including, as he lists in v.22, the sin of pride.
So when we encounter those in need, even when their suffering stems in part from their sin, a Good Neighbor moves toward them for two reasons. First, we move toward them because there is nothing infectious about need. Our own sin comes from inside of us and we have plenty of it. And second, we move toward them in their need because Jesus moved toward us in ours. In his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus died the death of a criminal—an unclean outcast. And ironically it wasn’t what was on the inside that corrupted him. For him, it did come from the outside. It came from us. Praise God today for making us clean in Christ.