Heart Trouble? Reflections on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
As Jesus points out in Mark 7:20-23, harmful words express evil intentions that lead to harmful deeds. They come from the heart. For Jesus' listeners the heart was not a faculty separate from the mind, but the seat of emotions, intellect, will, and spiritual life. Our words come from our hearts and often, head straight for the heart of another. Words come from the heart and head for the heart. If the heart is a poisoned well, it has great potential to defile.
When my brothers and I were growing up we got in the usual fights and hurled the usual verbal garbage at each other. My mother would shake her head and say, "I wish you three could hear yourselves." We can all recall hurtful words with which we have fouled the air around us. Looking back, we wish the childhood saying had been true: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me."
No one can achieve purity of heart and speech without the help of God. The habits of judgmental gossip and subtle self-promotion are hard to break. The pure in heart are those who consistently, repeatedly allow God to cleanse them of these corruptions. They are those who find allow God's light to shine in their hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
Try listening for healing, wholesome words this week, as well as speaking them. I tried it, and overheard a young father say to his toddler son in a grocery store checkout line, "I love you. I'm so glad I get to be your dad." As he tousled the toddler's hair and the boy smiled, a millimeter of the pain of the hurtful words I've spoken as a parent and heard other people speak, slipped away. I felt refreshed and for some reason, a bit hopeful.
I was on the phone with a relative. They were complaining about a run-in with another relative and starting a familiar litany of the person's failings. I said, "Yes, but even given all that, have you ever noticed that _______ is one terrific listener? She's always willing to put her concerns on hold and listen when you need her to." That made for a shorter conversation, but when it was over I felt purified, the way passing up an opportunity to engage in negativity gossip always makes us feel.
"There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile" (Mk. 7:15).
Most people get heart checkups and start watching what goes into their mouths. Jesus recommends that we check out our hearts and then start watching what comes out of them!
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.