I struggled a bit to find something to say this week.
I thought I had something, but no. And then something else. A bunch of false starts and hit a brick wall. Totally blocked.
The story is an exchange between Jesus and pharisees in Mark 7. The pharisees, as they so often do, question the behaviour of Jesus' followers for not following the required rituals of the law, in this case not washing their hands before touching food. They were defiling themselves by their actions.
I know that sounds like a minor cleanliness issue your mom taught you about when you were little, but to the pharisees, the keepers of the law, it was a big deal. And an opportunity to challenge Jesus.
But Jesus replies that the action itself, the tradition, is more important to them than what is meant to be at the heart of it. And that's a common occurrence with the pharisees. They honour the action of the law, but their hearts are far from God.
Jesus goes on to point out that it's not what goes in our mouths that defiles, it's what comes out of our mouths: hurtful words, harmful intentions and unkind behaviour. Well, Jesus' list (according to Mark) was a little bit more specific: "fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly" (Mark 7:21-22).
Paired with Mark this week is a passage from James that reminds its readers to be "doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves" (James 1:22).
I had a couple of really good ideas, I thought.
Everyday, the news is full of the latest from our politicians and, since there's an election coming, they'll say pretty much anything. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to remind ourselves to be discerning and ask thoughtful and probing questions of all of them. Trump's really lowered the bar on what you can say in the US, but surely we could expect more here.
Then I thought there's an opportunity to go a little rogue and question some of the "traditions" of the church, especially as "he said to them, 'Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines'" (Mark 7:6-7). Are we, as a church, honouring God with our hearts, or our traditions and doctrines? Which way do we follow - our way or the way of Jesus?
And I still think it would be valuable to explore those ideas. But it occurred to me that maybe the story, in this moment, isn't about politics or religion, but me and you.
I hope that we always need to go in the direction of the greater good, but we need to start with ourselves, don't we? So maybe we should wonder more about what comes out of our own mouths or from our fingertips on social media.
A couple of weeks ago, I quoted Stephen Covey who suggested that we don't listen to learn, we listen to respond. Likewise, perhaps we speak to simply be heard rather than share wisdom or a kind and supportive word.
Words of wisdom, kindness, compassion and, most of all, love, are a place to start. Being doers of those words - being doers of The Word - builds up, strengthens and honours ourselves and our relationships.