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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 7:1–23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “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.”

Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)—then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (NRSV)

After we’ve exhausted our Christmas spirit and have trudged through the dark days of the new year, Ash Wednesday suddenly springs upon us, and we nervously ask, “What am I going to give up for Lent?” Growing up, it was typical to give up chocolate, pop, or extra snacks. If we succeeded, we were rewarded with a huge Easter basket, or we binged on whatever treat we deprived ourselves of through the forty-day season.

As I grew up, I realized that giving up sweets didn’t really bring me closer to Christ or my Christian faith. I instead started doing something more for Lent, rather than giving something up. Whether it was finding an hour a week to commit to quiet prayer, sending daily letters of gratitude to friends and family, or attending daily Mass, I found myself more centered as Easter drew near. I found myself at peace with the worries and struggles of my heart, and I found myself more forgiving and less judgmental of others.

In today’s reading, Jesus reminds us that it’s not the traditions, rules, or practices we instate that make us disciples. It’s what we give of ourselves, and what we do with the potential of our hearts. The Pharisees were so bound by rules and laws that they lost focus on what really mattered—relationships, compassion, and justice. It’s not just about reading the church’s teachings, but living them out in a genuine manner.

As we journey through the Lenten season, let us be mindful of our Christian call to service, dignity, and love for our neighbors. Christ, be present in our hearts as we commit to following you as disciples in both preaching and practice. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens Harris, Director
Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

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