If it is from within, from the human heart that evil intentions come, then it is from God that all lovely, beautiful, and creative intentions come. And is this not a most beautiful world when we live together in love, beauty, and creativity. This is God’s dream for humanity, for us. But the gospel writer Mark shows us the trouble in Jesus’ time and place of misplaced intentions, misappropriated laws, misspent desire, and the disastrous consequences that result.
The traditions and laws that Mark refers to were in place to really bring order into chaos, they kept people and things in expected and predictable ways. The traditions were intended to serve as a “fence around the law” to preserve its function by protecting the law from careless or inadvertent violations. The traditions and laws were not bad unto themselves. They had meaning and purpose and were closely held by the Jewish people of Jesus’ time. Also, by observing these traditions and laws, you were identified as one of the group. They kept the order, they kept the lines of who’s in and who’s out very clear. Because the consequences of not being one of the group, the consequences of breaking the law or breaking with tradition was to be relegated to the margins, to be thrown out of the family, to be unprotected. No one wanted that, and not only was there much comfort in doing what had always been done, you could lose your life if you didn’t.
Aren’t we all looking to be identified as one of the group, whatever group that may be? Being one of the group is as important today as it ever was in first century Judaism. Whether or not we know it, we do it all the time. We wear our Packer attire so that we may be identified as a Packer backer, who wants to be a purple people eater in a sea of green?
But of course it goes so much deeper than that. Identity, and identifying with a group is at the core of our social lives. So much of our time is spent keeping people in or keeping people out. Bullying is about keeping someone out, keeping someone from identifying with your group. Any difference between you and the group the bully is in or even leads is a warrant for verbal jabs and physical barbs so that you know very well that you do not measure up, you do not fit in, you are not one of them, you are different. Gangs are about identifying with a particular group and there are very specific and often violent ways you gain access to the group. Identity is something we talk about a lot, and we say, no one should be threatened or punished because of their identity. What makes it hard, or maybe different from the traditions and the laws of the early first century is that those laws and traditions were clear, you knew where the fence was, and you knew when you jumped the fence and exactly what the consequences were for jumping the fence. It was the difference between chaos and order for them.
Our conflicts today are not much different, who’s in who’s out, who is like us, who is not like us. And our conflicts are often attributable to a zero sum game, which means there are always winners and losers. One of the differences between us and the first century Mediterranean world is that our fences are not clear like they were then. We are an enlightened people, and we think we have come far regarding the things that separate us, the things that identify us, race, religion, language, gender. But if we as a country were to be truly honest, we would see that its not that our fences are not as clear, it’s really that we don’t talk about them much, and that causes stress, anxiety, and sometimes hatred and violence.
But the good news in this text, and there is good news, is that the list; fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly, all of these misplaced intentions, misappropriated law, misspent desire, is not what God dreams for us. Jesus says, “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” I think what Jesus may have been trying to say is that our identity is beloved children of God. And as God’s beloveds, we are imbued with grace and with spirit. God fills us with love, and with life, and with worth. And there is no one left out, the fences we build have absolutely nothing to do with God’s love for us.
We need to remember also those laws and traditions were meant to keep people healthy and well, in some ways they are very practical. But when upholding the laws and traditions are the goal, when the fences are built to keep people out, they become a distraction away from the reality that God loves, no matter what. And this is sin. We don’t talk much about sin in our culture anymore, but here it is.
Sin is missing your mark. You see, God fills us with love, and with life, and with worth. Following Jesus is loving God, loving our neighbor, and showing it, so sin is when we miss our mark, sin is when we break our relationships with God, with Jesus, with others, and sin is the resulting brokenness of our lives and our world. You see, Jesus shows us the way with his life, Jesus shows us the way by giving his life in love, and we hear the words, “forgive them, they do not know what they do.”
Jesus says, “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” The whole list of evil is about broken relationships, broken hearts.
Humanity is created to be in love, to be in relationship with one another and with God. That is our identity, that is what makes us who we are. There is no fence around us keeping us in or others out. Our identity is found in Jesus, the one who lives, loves, suffers, dies, and is risen. Our identity is found in the relationship of creator, redeemer, spirit. Our identity is found in the reality that we sin, we miss the mark, our hearts are broken, and we are nevertheless, forgiven.
And the difficulty of this truth is that in God’s kingdom everyone matters. No one is to be thrown out or thrown away. There are to be no fences, we may divide people up by arbitrary differences, but God does not. And forgetting that is our sin. Never forget, that in God’s kingdom, God’s dream for us, for humanity is to be lovers, to be kind, compassionate. Never forget, that in God’s kingdom, God’s dream for us is that despite our tendency to miss the mark, to sin, we are filled with love, beauty, worth. Never forget, that in God’s kingdom, love always wins. Amen.