3/11/2020 – The Parable of the Heart of Man
Passage: Matthew 15:10-20 & Mark 7:14-23
Written By: Baronger Bieger – Graduate Student
Whenever I read the word “parable”, I always spend a second wondering if it is related to the word “parabola”. My mind, however, always fails to draw a connection between Christ’s analogies and the curve produced by a thrown object. Scrolling through the Greek for this passage finally pushed me to look it up. Both words are derived from the same Greek origins, para- which means “beside” and -ballo which means “to throw”. Thus, Christ tries to help the apostles understand complicated ideas by throwing more familiar ideas down beside them. When the apostles are confused (as they are wont to be), Jesus takes a patient breath and literally says, “Let me throw this idea out there and see if it helps you.”
This parable is a little more nuanced, however. Instead of, say, telling a story to illustrate a characteristic of God’s nature (e.g. His grace in the parable of the prodigal son), Jesus is here trying to correct a wrong-headed idea being propagated by the Pharisees: the idea that you can be defiled by eating with hands that have not been ritualistically cleaned. Though originally founded on the law from the Old Testament, the Pharisees had added to the original command and used these new man-made laws as a basis to self-righteously judge others.
To refute this idea, Jesus juxtaposes it with the reality, the fact that we are not corrupted by our food but by our actions and thoughts. What really defiles us is what we say and do, and not what we eat or drink. Thus, though the Pharisees were outwardly clean, as they were adhering to so many strict regulations, they were inwardly corrupt, being full of pride.
C.S. Lewis touches upon a similar point in Mere Christianity, where he distinguishes between physical and spiritual sins. He says that, "a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.” Like the Pharisees, we too might become whitewashed tombs. But Jesus’s issues with the Pharisees extend still further.
Both Matthew and Mark’s accounts of this parable follow right on the heels of Jesus reprimanding the Pharisees for “nullify[ing] the word of God by [their] tradition”. Though God had commanded people to honor their father and mothers, in part by providing for them in their old age, the Pharisees had said that this requirement could be waived, so long as the funds meant for the parents were set aside as “dedicated to God”. They were instructing the people to disobey God, under the guise of honoring Him. This leads Christ to quote Isaiah to them, saying…
“These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.”
In this Lenten season, we are keen to honor God with our lips, in this case by abstaining, maybe, from chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, or sugar. This can be beneficial, but we must remember that abstaining from things going into our mouths is only helpful in as much as it changes what comes out of them. For, it is what comes out of our mouths and minds that shows how near our hearts are to God. If we are to fast this Lent, let us release our heart’s hold on Earthly things so that it may cleave more closely to the heart of God. Let prayerfulness and worship fill the void left behind by what you are fasting from and make note of what God does in that time.