Fifty kids and leaders tumbled out of the minivans and car pools that carried them to the Bible school field trip at the community garden. Half an hour later, after instructions from the garden stewards, the kids busily harvested ripe carrots out of the ground for use at local food banks. In an effort to teach kids more about where our food comes from, the stewards invited them to taste the produce. Of course they also mentioned washing the veggies first. But the line for the water hose got very long, and Ben couldn’t wait. “Ewwww!” responded Sam when he saw Ben take a bite of his soil-encrusted carrot. “You’re going to get dirty inside, Ben!”
Like Sam, the Pharisees and scribes worry that ingesting unclean food with unclean hands is a big “Ewwww!” Not because it is disgusting but because it defiles—it is ritually impure. Rules of ritual purity—especially related to food preparation and consumption—separated Jews in Jesus’ time from people who practiced other religions. The rules remind practitioners of their differences from others because they follow God. Jesus and his disciples would have known this well.
But Jesus comes along with radical news. Like Ben, Jesus can’t wait to take a bite and get to the heart of the matter. What goes into us does not separate us from our neighbors; our hearts make us different from those who do not follow God. What we put into our bodies cannot cause us to stumble, but what is already in our hearts can. Only our love for God and our neighbors can cleanse our hearts.
Gracious God, love comes from the inside out. Please come into our hearts with your love. Amen.
The poetry of Song of Solomon is thick with romantic imagery, and most scholars agree that these lines mean what they say on the surface; they are written from the author to the beloved. Psalm 45 echoes the refrain of admiration and desire. Such desire is not wrong if it is awakened at the proper time, as the author of Song of Solomon says elsewhere. James argues that ethical living is done not in word but in deed. True religion is not putting on a show but displaying mercy and controlling the tongue. Jesus rebukes some of the religious leaders in Mark on this very account because they talk of obedience to God but do not live it out. What we say and what we do should match.
• Read Song of Solomon 2:8-13. The narrative poetry of Song of Solomon invites us into the Bible in a way that differs from other texts. How does God speak to you through this poetry?
• Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9. Intimate human love can reflect God’s love. How do your relationships honor the gift of love?
• James 1:17-27. How do you bring God’s love to those who need it?
• Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. Are you simply going through the motions of faith, or is your heart close to God?
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