February 9, 2011 - Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

The words of Jesus today require some understanding. He told the crowd, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile.” We may want to question Jesus as his disciples did. We might begin questioning him about bacteria and parasites, or, if we take his words more spiritually, then we should ask about bad entertainment: violence and sex. It is absolutely necessary for a Christian to keep custody of their eyes and ears. Those who try to follow Christ and then watch popular entertainment are fools, they deceive themselves. In the first reading today, we hear the foreboding hint of original sin and we know how that ended up: Eve allowed the serpent’s words in and sin quickly followed.

What are we to think then? Was our Lord so naive? Not at all! “He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man.” Jesus is not concerning himself now with questions of basic hygiene, nor even whether anything that we put in our bodies is good or bad for us. The word he uses here that is translated as “defile” is a very technical word for the Jews, referencing uncleanness. Certain illnesses made a person unclean. Shrimp and pork were unclean. We should not confuse “unclean” with either sinful or dirty. We should think more about our feeling if we were served dog for dinner. There is no logical reason why a dog is a worse animal to eat than a pig, but I do not want it.

The laws on uncleanness are developed very early in the Old Testament, and they built on cultural ideas of what is disgusting or not that existed long before the law. God used disgust, which is natural to us, to teach his people about good and bad. Throughout the Old Testament, we see constant references to a clean heart, which begins to spiritualize the concept. Jesus fully develops this teaching in the Gospel today. If Jesus were here now, teaching us this teaching, he might say, “What do you find disgusting? That man over there, who hasn’t showered this month, who’s picking his nose as he digs through the dumpster behind McDonald’s looking for half-eaten food? Do you want to know what’s really disgusting? “Evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.”