From Within—the Heart, Comes All Defilement
The Old Testament heaps praise on Solomon as the typical wise man, who understood the meaning of life, of the world, of right and wrong. People came to him from distant countries to seek his advice. And yet, as we know, in later life at least, his wisdom was not powerful enough to keep him humbly oriented towards God. His heart became divided.
Divided too, were the hearts of the Pharisees, as Jesus points out in the Gospel; their interior attitude did not correspond to their outward practices. The question of pure/impure was very important for the early Church, as it was one of the strongest traditions of the Jews and a point of contention for them. Hence, the Christians coming from Jewry asked themselves whether they could eat from the same table with non-Jews. According to Mark, in the light of creation that sees all foods as created good and pure, in the kingdom the rules about food are abolished.
1 Reading: 1 Kings 10:1-10
The queen of Sheba, having heard of Solomon’s fame, came to test him with subtle questions. She arrived in Jerusalem with a very numerous retinue, and with camels bearing spices, a large amount of gold, and precious stones. She came to Solomon and questioned him on every subject in which she was interested. King Solomon explained everything she asked about, and there remained nothing hidden from him that he could not explain to her. When the queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon’s great wisdom, the palace he had built, the food at his table, the seating of his ministers, the attendance and garb of his waiters, his banquet service, and the burnt offerings he offered in the temple of the LORD, she was breathless. “The report I heard in my country about your deeds and your wisdom is true,” she told the king. “Though I did not believe the report until I came and saw with my own eyes, I have discovered that they were not telling me the half. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report I heard. Blessed are your men, blessed these servants of yours, who stand before you always and listen to your wisdom. Blessed be the LORD, your God, whom it has pleased to place you on the throne of Israel. In his enduring love for Israel, the LORD has made you king to carry out judgment and justice.” Then she gave the king one hundred and twenty gold talents, a very large quantity of spices, and precious stones. Never again did anyone bring such an abundance of spices as the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.
Responsorial Psalm PS 37:5-6, 30-31, 39-40
R. (30a) The mouth of the just murmurs wisdom.
Commit to the LORD your way;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will make justice dawn for you like the light;
bright as the noonday shall be your vindication. R.
The mouth of the just man tells of wisdom
and his tongue utters what is right.
The law of his God is in his heart,
and his steps do not falter. R.
The salvation of the just is from the LORD;
he is their refuge in time of distress.
And the LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him. R.
Alleluia cf. John 17:17b, 17a
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Your word, O Lord, is truth:
consecrate us in the truth.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Mark 7:14-23
Jesus summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” When he got home away from the crowd his disciples questioned him about the parable. He said to them, “Are even you likewise without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) “But what comes out of the man, that is what defiles him. From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
King Solomon’s reputation for wisdom and insight has reached foreign courts—as far away as the queen of Sheba. The queen comes to see if his competence can be verified, bringing with her all manner of good things: gold, spices, and precious stones. The queen is not disappointed. Solomon addresses her questions resolutely, much to her satisfaction. Solomon’s royal appointments, his table, his waiters, and his general opulence all make a deep impression on her.
On one occasion in the Gospels, Jesus mentions this visit of the queen of Sheba to Solomon and says about himself, “Something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt 12:42). Jesus is the Wisdom of God, and what he says must be taken with the utmost seriousness. In today’s Gospel he speaks of the heart as the center of all evil.
Who of us cannot trace our own misdeeds to some movement from within? A friend of mine was once involved in a financial scam. He was neither the most nor the least guilty, but did have a part in some of the wrongdoing. I saw it as a misguided “once in a lifetime” mistake and wrote to the judge asking for leniency in view of his overall good conduct. The man, however, was sentenced to prison, with a sentence that the judge considered fair but not severe. The time was served and a good family life disrupted. There are times in life when we must pay the price for our wrongdoing. The greatest tragedy is not the mistake but not to have learned from the mistake. But it all begins in the heart with a “yes” or a “no.” Indeed, it is the evil that comes from within that makes a person impure.
Commandments are not just observances that guarantee our salvation. They are a response to all that God has given us. We ask God not what we are obliged to do, but what he expects us to do to respond to his love. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!