Saturday, January 31, 2015

Context and Culture

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.'  "You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."
Then he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.' But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, 'Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban' (that is, an offering to God) - then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this."
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile."
When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, "Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." Mark 7:1-23 
We are leaving soon for a trip to Rome, where I will be leading a conference. Afterwards we will have time to tour and visit and take in the sights. I have never been to Rome, so  trying to understand the context and culture of a place I've never been is very difficult. It is not just the language, the customs or the food. It is understanding what has power and influence, how people think about themselves and one another, and how they face the world every morning. For each place and people, these things are very different. As an Indigenous American, I know our peoples and cultures are vastly different and we cannot be lumped together. Each tribe has different rituals, influences and world views. 
Jesus and his disciples were upsetting the norms of the culture and were under criticism from the ruling elite. They were being called evil, when all that they were was hungry travelers. A debate over good and evil arose. We humans often cast other people and cultures as evil when we do not understand. But Jesus points out that human tradition is neither good or evil. Evil is a product of the human heart - those behaviors and attitude that destroy and lessen others, that put ourselves as better than others.
Today I ask God to give me a listening heart and eyes to see the gifts around me. May we all understand that we have the capacity for good and evil, and may we chose everyday to bring good into the world. May we not use our hearts and mind for judgement but rather for learning and opening to new blessings around us.

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