“There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. […] For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mk 7:15,21-23)
It is incredible to realize the lucidity of Jesus and his moral sensitivity that, even after hundreds of years of Christianity, we still have difficulty in understanding. We are still so attached to external religiosity that overestimates the rites, customs, and appearance that we have been losing the central part of the Gospel message.
However, in a complicated world like ours, no truth, opinion or position seems to be simple or unequivocal. Everything seems to depend on perspective or individual point of views that if Jesus had come today he would have found a much more complex society that would react to his teachings in a much more controversial way than did the society presented by the Gospel narrative which suggests a much simpler dynamic: with authority, in short phrases, Jesus solves the interrogations proposed by his adversaries.
I say this because although I agree that a purely external religiosity is the simple evidence of religious hypocrisy, I must also admit that in many contexts of today’s world, externally expressing one’s faith is a true example of witness and propagation of the values of religion. It is also true that many today advocate a purely interior religiosity, without rites or symbols, based only on a spiritual abstraction when, in fact, they camouflage a strong tendency towards anonymity, mediocrity, and relativism.
What may help us to draw answers to this problem is what we find some verses before this chosen passage: seeing that the disciples of Jesus ate bread without washing their hands, the Pharisees ask: “Why do not your disciples behave according to the tradition of the ancients, but eat the bread with impure hands?” (7:5). As we can see, Jesus is not necessarily criticizing those who observe ritual restrictions. What Jesus does is respond to those Pharisees who think they are better than others for observing such traditions. That is, Jesus is acting more on the defensive than on the offensive side. Jesus calls them “hypocrites” (7:6) not because they externally express their religiosity, but by doing so, they find themselves in the right to morally judge those who do not.
In fact, the moral disposition of the individual is not visibly presented by external actions, but rather by the intention of the heart and only in this context one could judge the other, for “it is within the hearts of men that evil thoughts come out” (7:21). As this dimension is unknown by the other and known only by God, then no one has the right to judge the other, only God. Therefore, Jesus does not criticize the external expression of religiosity, but simply affirms that this is not the way to morally judge others. The “intention of the heart” is the key point: this is what will say whether the tradition you follow is an expression of your inner faith or if it is pure exhibitionism of a hypocritical religiosity.
by Br. Joel Moreira, NDS.