Our gospel lesson for this morning opens with these words: “Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this…’”
The word in the Greek in which Mark first wrote that is translated as understand is σύνεσις. It has nothing to do with intellectual firepower. It has the idea of getting with a fact. Here, Jesus wants the crowd to "get with" what He wants to convey to them, something even a little child can understand.
Now, Jesus spoke these words on the heels of the incident that occupied last Sunday’s gospel lesson, when Jesus scorned the Pharisees and teachers of the law for laying human laws on people and turning salvation from God into a contract in which they said, “If I engage in these human traditions, God has to give me what I want.” But in response to the Pharisees' and the scribes' supposed piety, Jesus said: “You turn your backs on God’s commandments in favor of your own traditions."
Jesus was always being followed by crowds. They weren’t His followers, although some would eventually come follow Him maybe. The crowds were the were the curious. They were curious about this Man Who claimed to be God, Who performed miracles, and set people free to know God.
The Pharisees and scribes hadn’t understood Jesus’ teaching, because they hadn’t wanted to. They exemplified a truth about which writer Upton Sinclair once said, “"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."
Jesus doesn’t force God’s truth on people.
He doesn’t force salvation on anyone.
Each person, one at a time, must either receive Christ as God and Savior or not. And they must keep receiving Jesus or not every day, which is why Martin Luther says that the lifestyle of a believer in Christ is daily repentance and renewal.
But no person will receive Christ as Savior if they do not first understand the difference between religion, which is what the Pharisees practiced, and faith, which is what Jesus offers all of us.
Faith is trusting that the God Who took on human flesh, died as He took on the punishment we all deserve for our sins, and rose so that all who believe in Christ, surrendering their lives and wills to Him have life with God that never ends. This is what Jesus wanted the crowds to know, understand, experience, and live.
Whatever physical dirt may accidentally enter our mouths when we eat is not going to destroy our relationship with God. It’s the unclean things that come out of a human being, the sin that emanates from them that defiles them, that declares independence from God and His moral law for all humanity, that drives a wedge in our relationships with God and others.
Don’t worry about performing all these ritual laws that the Pharisees give you, Jesus was telling the crowd. Be more concerned about what the sin already inside of you can incite you to do and say and obsess over absent the Lordship of Jesus over your life!
Now we know that Jesus is both true God and true man. So, He always understands what's going on inside of us better than we ourselves don But if Jesus had entertained any notion that the disciples in the house understood His teaching any better than the crowd, He would have been quickly disabused of the notion. We're told: “...his disciples asked him about this parable [the short parable about what goes into a stomach not defiling a person].”
The demonic character in one of George Bernard Shaw’s plays could act as the spokesmen for many: “I love to sin. God loves to forgive sin. It really is an admirable system.”
Jesus came to change our hearts, to change our very beings. He came to transform us from the inside out so that in this life, however imperfectly, we seek to follow Him, do God’s will (even when we don’t want to), love God, love others, and help others to know Jesus too. He came to transform us from the inside out so that in the life to come, God will give us a completely new life in Him, where all that exists on the inside and on the outside is a heart and a life devoid of sin, covered and filled with the purity and love and power of God.
Do we want human traditions that make us look clean on the outside but leave us dirty and far from God on the inside, where we live?
Or do we want a relationship with Jesus, God revealed to all the world, a relationship that brings us to life, that helps us move away from superficial religiosity toward becoming the people we were made to be: people of love, hope, and integrity.
The better choice should be obvious. God help us all--God help me--to make the right choice, to completely and unreservedly throw in with Jesus, each day and always. Amen