…there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile — Mark 7:15, NRSV
I’ve always looked at this teaching with an emphasis on the “all foods are clean” thing (Mark 7:19). After all, it means I can enjoy bacon guilt-free and it represents a shift from religious box-checking to a more transformative spirituality. But the last part… the “defilement from within” part… that didn’t truly sink in until recently.
We as humans always look to external causes for our inappropriate actions. It’s never our fault. It’s the unclean “stuff” out there that got us.
We see this when the media crucifies an assault survivor for what they were wearing; we hear it about the victim of a careless police officer for what they may or may not have been doing out so late in that neighborhood OR we see the same logic used to justify the assault on a police officer. After all, there’s this back story…
It’s never our fault.
I’ve done this in my own life. Old habits die hard, and all the more so when changing seems too scary or painful. There was always a reason, whether it be my childhood, my losses, or my depression.
We always look for external sources of trouble and salvation. We don’t want to be responsible for our mistakes because then we might be responsible for fixing them. Jesus rightly criticizes this attitude.
Agreeing with James (4:1-3), Jesus asserts that “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly” (Mark 7:21-22). Our desires and our fears produce the evil we enact in the world. Other people or situations may stimulate or add specificity to these things, but our response is ours alone.
Now this is not a guilt trip or a statement about my own perfection. I am simply indicating that this passage has taken on new life for me because I now understand that I must heal what is within rather than waiting for something from without.
When many of us entered into faith, we are taught that God is a Savior, which is true. But what often follows is the expectation that God will do it all, which is actually a blatant denial of free will. God gives us the means and awareness, and He is with us always, but to change and grow and leave behind our harmful practices is our work. We must desire it, initiate it, and see it through while relying on God’s grace to keep us moving with compassion for ourselves and each other as we all embark on our roads to healing.
For me to change, I have to want it. If any of us have habits in need of changing, it must be us that seek to enter into that process with God. God’s already where He needs to be, He’s just waiting on us to meet Him at the station.
Whatever is plaguing your life, and whatever negative habits or behaviors are manifesting in you, I pray that you will know that it is never hopeless or too late. All that you need to make the change is already with you, waiting for you to find that motivation and get started. Is it your relationship with your family, friends, or kids? Your relationship with God or yourself? Are you simply sick and tired? Whatever it is, may the grace of God light a fire within, and may we all choose to take a step into that transforming Light.
Peace be with you!