From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within, and they defile. (Mark 7:21-23)
Thus says the Lord. I think we can find a lot of answers by reflecting on these two sentences. First, let’s make sure we understand the words.
From within people, from their hearts, come… 1. Evil Thoughts. Okay, yes. As in, Yes, I know what that means. And, yes, I am guilty of it.
2. Unchastity All of us grown-ups know what that means? Unchaste acts or unchaste thoughts. Unchaste websites or unchaste smartphone apps–unchaste anything. Anything other than: love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.
Theft. Murder. Adultery. Greed. We know the definitions of these words, I think. On Wednesday, cold-blooded murder punched us square in the face. But let’s finish the list and come back to that.
7. Malice. Not an easy word to grasp the meaning of. The more prevalent malice is, the harder it is to see. It’s like the opposite of sunlight. The sunnier the day, the more sunlight we see. Malice is the opposite. The more malice there is around us, the more and more blind to it we become.
On the cross, Christ revealed how God thinks of us. No malice. God made Himself the victim of all the Devil’s immeasurable malice, because our Creator holds no malice in His heart towards us. He wills only that we would share the Father’s love. On Wednesday morning , we saw malice, in all its grotesque ugliness. But, like I said, let’s finish the words in the sentence, then we’ll come back to the $10,000 question.
Next word: Deceit. I think we know the meaning: wrongly keeping someone in the dark about the truth.
9. Licentiousness. Anyone know what that means? …Driver’s license, pilot’s license, license to practice medicine… License-tiousness. Artistic license can be a good thing, like when Michelangelo used artistic license in depicting the Last Judgment on the wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel. But taking moral license means saying to myself something like: “Keep holy the Sabbath is a great commandment, but I have a soccer game!” Or “I know I already ate ten cookies, and that’s gluttony. But I’m going to have another one anyway, because I want to. I give myself a license to have an eleventh cookie.”
10. Envy. We understand the word, I think. 11. Blasphemy. Speaking of God, or anything associated with God, without reverence. 12. Arrogance. Again, I know what it means. And I know that I am guilty of it.
13. Folly. Anybody remember Mr. T? I pity the fool. I pity the fool who acts or speaks without thinking. The fool who makes decisions without first asking, What would the Lord have me do?
Ok. That’s the whole list. Guilty we are. All of us, somewhere along the line. We are children of Adam and Eve, members of the fallen race, for whom Christ had to die, so that we could receive mercy instead of punishment.
The Jews had their customs (as we read at Holy Mass). All of their practices had some reasonable origin in the piety of their forefathers. Washing up before a meal? That’s a good habit to have. Like keeping the kitchen clean, and all the plates and pots and pans. Keeping the Sabbath, as a genuine day of rest and spiritual refreshment. All good.
When the Lord Jesus condemned the Pharisees, He hardly intended to declare that eating with your hands dirty is the Law of the New Covenant. But: Carrying on as if washing my hands and letting the goyim do my work for me on the holy day… carrying on as if such things make a person righteous—that’s called hypocrisy. “A sinner? Oh, no. Not me! Look at my clean pots and plates!” That’s Pharisaism.
Because within us, within the innermost secret heart of any member of the human race, we can find the desperate smallness, the obtuse pride, the propensity to malice which somehow convinced Adam and Eve to trust the Devil, instead of God. The Devil managed to convince the First Parents of the human race that he is more honest than God.
He’s not, of course. Satan is a liar. The Liar. Maybe one reason why God let this terrible thing happen Wednesday is to remind us, each of us, in the secret center of our hearts:
“Look: You know neither the day nor the hour. This pilgrim life is fragile and short. Pray for the dead, pray for the suffering. And seek God. Seek God’s kingdom.” To find God, we just have to humbly admit that we need Him. Admit that we are gaping vortices of emptiness, without Jesus Christ.
After falling away from God by his pride, the devil despaired. Satan never hoped to find mercy. But that doesn’t make Satan a charmingly self-indulgent, fat, and rummy devil. His despair makes him, above all, perversely self-righteous.
The farthest thing away from Christ is not any particular item on the list of bad moves which children of Adam and Eve tend to make–the list which Christ spelled out for us in the gospel passage. The farthest thing away from Christ is the self-righteousness that would deny our need for Him. When we turn to our God on the cross, and open our inner floodgates, and cry out, “Lord, have mercy!”–He does.