Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Mark 7:14-23

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The text for our consideration today is the Gospel reading.

I’m sure you’ve all heard it said, “You are what you eat,” or “you are no better than the company which you keep.”  Well, these things are true, as far as they go.  But the problem is that they assume that something outside of you is what’s making you what you are on the inside.  Now, Jesus in our text for today says that that’s not actually true, that we aren’t corrupted because of what’s around us, but because of what is within us.  Because the heart of man by nature is so desperately wicked.  Evil comes from the inside, not from the outside.

And we see this in several different examples, and we’ll use the first one right from our text, and that’s dealing with physical things, especially food.

Now, the Jews, when they approached food, because of their ceremonial laws, they would say that certain things actually made you bad.  Certain things, if you actually ate them, they would corrupt you, and so they tried to avoid them.  But Jesus says this isn’t true.  It’s not the food itself that’s making them bad, but their own wicked hearts.  Now, you and I as Christians don’t often deal with issues of food, but that doesn’t mean that physical things aren’t sometimes a problem.  Take, for example, a real common one: alcohol.  I’m sure you know somebody who says that if you drink alcohol, you’re sinning, that somehow alcohol in itself is a bad thing.  Well, Jesus says, “No, that’s not true.  It’s not the alcohol that’s bad, but that the wicked heart of man, the evil from within, that misuses this physical thing, that’s bad.”

Now, Jesus Himself, however, did not misuse these things.  Jesus was able to resist the temptation and to correctly use physical things around Him.  We have the example of Him drinking wine at the wedding of Cana, but you also have the even better example of the bread when He was tempted by the devil.  The devil says to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”  And what does Jesus say?  He says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  And He resists this temptation for your sake and for my sake, so that when we failed in our dealings with physical things, Jesus did not, and He forgives us our sins.

But physical things, perhaps, aren’t the biggest problem.  Something a little bit bigger, something a little bit more of a problem, is dealing with social pressures.  Everybody’s doing it.  Doesn’t that make it right?  Well, no, this isn’t true either.  Just because everybody’s doing it, just because 51% says that something’s right, doesn’t make it right.  We could deal with obvious examples in our own culture, dealing with abortion or homosexuality, but the one that I think hits a little closer to home, the temptation that’s a little nearer and dearer for us, for you and for me, is dealing with issues like drunkenness, or dealing with issues of dishonesty, the kinds of vices which because they’re so common, we don’t tend to think about them very much.  We can’t give in to these temptations, but because our evil comes from within, we stumble and we fall.

But Jesus did not stumble, and Jesus did not fall.  Jesus came to us, and He resisted the temptation to go with the crowd.  He resisted the temptation to just go with whatever the majority was saying.  He does it in the text here, when He says that “You’re wrong in your majority opinion,” but He also did it when He went to the cross.  When you and I and everybody alive would run away from the worst pain imaginable, Jesus didn’t.  Jesus resisted the temptation, and He went to the cross to forgive us our sins.

But the one that’s probably the most difficult to deal with, the one that’s the most tempting of all, is dealing with ideas, especially this idea that, well, I’ve resisted all these things.  I don’t misuse physical things.  I don’t misuse alcohol.  I don’t give into temptation.  I don’t give into peer pressure, so I guess that makes me a good person, right?  Well, no.  That’s not true either, because it is not from the outside that evil comes.  It is not from somewhere out there that we’re dealing with this evil that we deal with.  It comes from within, from our own sinful, wicked hearts.

But Jesus comes to you from the outside.  Jesus comes to you, not from within, but from outside of you, and He says to you, “Your sins are forgiven.”  Jesus comes to you from the outside.  He comes to you now.  He comes in the Word.  He comes in preaching.  He comes in the Sacraments, in Baptism and in the Lord’s Supper, and He declares to you that your sins are forgiven, not because of anything inside, but because of what He has done for us in His own body by taking all our sins upon Himself to the cross.

And so when we deal with these issues of evil, we can recognize that evil is not something far away.  Evil is something that comes from within, but Jesus comes from the outside, and He shows us mercy, and He shows us grace, and He says, “Your sins are forgiven, because of what I have done for you.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.