‘And then (Jesus) added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”’ (Mark 7.20-23 New Living Translation)
The verses immediately before this passage are a discussion about eating ritually clean and unclean foods. That doesn’t tend to be a big issue in Christianity today, but many of us still seem to believe that ritual acts can purify us.
Jesus takes a different view. What goes into the body doesn’t makes you dirty; it’s what comes out of your heart that does that. He lists all the ‘vile things’ that spew out from us into the world on a regular basis. Want to be clean? Work on changing that list!
But how do we do that? Well, we’re told in several places in the New Testament that love is the fulfilling of the law. Love is also the first fruit of the Holy Spirit and the theme of Jesus’ great commandments. As we gradually learn to centre our lives on loving God, our neighbour, and ourselves, we will find these ‘vile things’ getting weaker, and eventually shrivelling away to nothing.
So let’s work on practising love for God, our neighbour and ourselves, and let’s pray that as we do so, the Holy Spirit will cleanse the poisoned well within and transform us on the inside into people formed and shaped by love.
‘In the night I remember your name, LORD,
and dwell upon your instruction’ (Psalm 119.55 REB).
I remember reading that Dom Helder Camara had trouble sleeping through the night. So he would get up, spend some time in prayer and meditation, and then write some of the devotional poetry for which he became well known. As he put it, he ‘got insomnia working for him’!
Like him, I have difficulty sleeping through the night. I fall asleep very quickly, but wake up at least twice during the night, and sometimes I can’t get back to sleep. But I tend to waste that time in browsing Facebook or other not-so-edifying stuff.
This morning I sensed God speaking to me through this verse, saying ‘Is it time to get insomnia working for you?’ Could I be more intentional about how I use those sleepless times to draw closer to God?
‘The fear of the Lord is life; he who is full of it will rest untouched by evil.’
(Proverbs 19.23 Revised English Bible).
These days a lot of people react against the phrase ‘the fear of the Lord’—motivated, I guess, by bad memories of fire and brimstone preaching. But I notice that abandoning the fear of the Lord hasn’t helped us abandon fear. We fear the bad opinion of our Facebook friends, and crave their ‘likes’ and comments. We fear the rejection of our friends, and sometimes say and do things that aren’t really true to us, in order to win their approval.
To ‘fear the Lord’ means, first, to recognize that in a relationship between the One who made and sustains everything that exists on the one hand, and little me on the other, God is definitely the senior partner. And secondly, it means that we choose whose good opinion matters most to us. In the long run, what God thinks of me is infinitely more important than anyone else’s opinion. So, to use a phrase I once heard on this subject, ‘We choose to play our life to an audience of one.’
When we do this, the psalmist says, we discover ‘life’. By this he doesn’t mean that we will receive life as a reward in the future. He means that in playing our life to an audience of one, in this life, we discover here and now that this is what life is all about. We discover a sense of freedom and joy that we never thought possible. May this be so for all of us today.
‘Once again Jesus addressed the people: “I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall wander in the dark; he shall have the light of life.’” (John 8.12 New English Bible).
The REB revisers changed this NEB translation to the more common ‘no follower of mine shall walk in darkness’, but I’m struck by the vividness of the NEB rendering: ‘wander in the dark’. I’ve done a lot of that wandering in the dark, trying to find the right way forward. It might be a relational issue with a friend or loved one, or a problem in my parish that I need to find a solution for, or a time when my relationship with God seems to have gone dry and barren, or my struggles with my own sins and weaknesses. I seem to spend a lot of time wandering in the dark.
Today’s psalm includes the familiar verse ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path’ (Psalm 119.105 REB). What the psalmist says about the Torah, or Law of God, John’s gospel applies to Jesus: he is the Word of God, so he is the light of the world. His light shines in the dark places and shows us how to live, how to love, how to serve God, how to be a blessing. The opposite of ‘wandering in the dark’ is following Jesus. Lord Jesus, help us today to intentionally shape our lives after your teaching and example. You have shown us the way, so now help us to follow it—to follow you—so that we may have the light of life. Amen.
‘But the talk about Jesus spread ever wider, so that great crowds kept gathering to hear him and to be cured of their ailments. And from time to time he would withdraw to remote places for prayer.’ (Luke 5.15-16 REB)
There have been many times in my life when I’ve been guilty of being far too impressed with the first sentence above, and completely neglectful of the second.
I imagine Jesus going out to the remote place. No Bible, no liturgy, no retreat centre, no one else with him—just the presence of God and whatever scriptures he had memorized (including probably a lot of psalms). This was such a vital feature of his ministry, a refreshment for his spirit, a deepening of his sense of fellowship with God.
Lord, thanks for the opportunities we have to love our neighbours, and give us strength to grasp them with both hands. But also, help us not to neglect the call of the ‘remote place’. Without you we can do nothing, so help us make the time we need to draw closer to you. Amen.
‘For God alone I wait silently;
my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock of deliverance,
my strong tower, so that I am unshaken.
On God my safety and my honour depend,
God who is my rock of refuge and my shelter.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts before him;
God is our shelter.’ (Psalm 62.5-8 REB)
I love the balance between silence and speaking in these verses. ‘For God alone my soul waits silently; my hope comes from him’ (v.5). ‘Trust in him at all times, you people’ pour out your hearts before him; God is our shelter’ (v.8). Pouring out our hearts to God—a torrent of words describing to God exactly how we feel—seems to be the exact opposite of waiting in silence for him. But in reality, both are essential features of a healthy prayer life.
What unites them is trust. ‘Trust in him at all times, you people.’ The psalmist has experienced God as a refuge and a rock of deliverance. Past experience leads him too continue to trust that God—‘God alone’—is his shelter.
God our refuge, help us to trust in you, to wait on you in silence, and to pour out our hearts to you. Thank you that you are our rock of refuge and our shelter. Amen.
(Today’s One Year Bible daily readings are Numbers 28:16-29:40, Luke 3:23-38, Psalm 62, and Proverbs 11:18-19)
‘The child (Jesus) grew big and strong and full of wisdom; and God’s favour was upon him.’ (Luke 2.36 REB)
‘As Jesus grew he advanced in wisdom and in favour with God and men.’ (Luke 2.52 REB)
As I get older, I find that wisdom is a gift I prize more and more highly. Wisdom means knowing how to live and what to do in all the situations life throws at us. Heavenly wisdom is informed and shaped by faith in God and God’s will for us. Several Old Testament texts tell us that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (fear, not in the sense of terror, but in the sense of a proper awe and reverence for God as our Creator).
Lord Jesus, as you were guided by your Father, so guide us today in the way of wisdom. Amen.
One of the Pharisees, called Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Council, came to Jesus by night. ‘Rabbi,’ he said, ‘we know that you are a teacher sent by God; no one could perform these signs of yours unless God were with him.’ Jesus answered, ‘In very truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he has been born again.’ ‘But how can someone be born when he is old?’ asked Nicodemus. ‘Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘In very truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born from water and spirit. Flesh can give birth only to flesh; it is spirit that gives birth to spirit. You ought not to be astonished when I say, “You must all be born again.” The wind blows where it wills; you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born from the Spirit.’ (John 3.3-8 REB)
‘New birth’ is a metaphor for transformation, or, more accurately, for the beginning of a process of transformation. Many people today equate it with ‘accepting Jesus as your personal Saviour’. I have nothing to say against accepting Jesus as your personal Saviour, but it seems clear to me that many who have done it don’t appear to be in process of transformation. Meanwhile, there are others who have a less clearly defined conversion experience but are obviously changing and becoming more like Jesus every day.
‘The wind blows where it wills’. You can’t control the Holy Spirit or tie him down. All you can do is open yourself up to his work in faith. Faith—trust in God—is the key to all this. We aren’t going to decide where this journey leads. God is the one who decides that. Faith is taking his hand and going with him on that journey, trusting that he knows best and that the end result will be blessing for all. We can’t see the end yet, so we have to take it on faith.
God, thank you for the work of the Holy Spirit who transforms us into the likeness of Jesus. It really is like being born all over again, it’s such a huge change! What’s the next step in that change process for us? Help us not to be afraid of it, but to trust you and cooperate with your Spirit, so that the work of the Kingdom may go forward in us. Amen.