Jesus protests against human customs being given the weight of divine law, while the essence of God’s law is ignored. True uncleanness comes not from external things, but from the intentions of the human heart. Last week Jesus told us “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Now James says God has given us birth by the word of truth. We who were washed in the word when we were born in the font return to it every Sunday to ask God to create in us clean hearts.
Readings and Psalm
- Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
God’s law: a sign of a great nation
- Psalm 15
Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? (Ps. 15:1)
- James 1:17-27
Be doers of the word, not hearers only
- Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
The Heart of the Matter
When clay becomes a pot, it must first have a center. As a potter spins, pushes, and pulls the clay into its final form, it can easily lose its center and become misshapen. Having lost its center, it fails to fully be what it is being created to be—a pot, a pitcher, a plate, a thing of beauty, a vessel for others.
Faith and religious practice have lost their center in today’s readings. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus calls into question “This people” that “honors me with their lips” but whose “hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6). Some in the religious community have begun focusing on surface matters (the washing of hands, what one eats, the traditions of the elders) and have forgotten the core. What really matters is how one’s faith is expressed in mercy, in words and actions that build up rather than tear down the neighbor.
In the second reading James wonders about those who look at themselves in a mirror and upon walking away forget who they are (James 1:23-24). For James, they are simply hearers of the word and not doers. Their lives do not reflect the love and mercy that has claimed them.
And so it is with us. We do not live as the people God has claimed us to be. Our lives lose their center. Our faith practices focus on surface things rather than the core. We fail to be what God has created and is creating us to be—vessels poured out for others. We look at ourselves in the mirror and upon walking away forget who and whose we are.
At the heart of the Christian assembly is Jesus—in word, in song, in prayer, in the neighbor, in water, bread, and wine. Jesus, who embodies forgiveness and mercy, is the heart. Again and again, life becomes misshapen. Again and again, the potter reshapes the clay. The splash of a watery cross, the taste of bread and wine: these things center life in Christ. God’s mercy washes over us. God’s mercy is implanted in us. God creates life anew; deformed hearts are reformed for works of mercy and love.