“The things that come out from within are what defile”

In Mark 7:14-23, Jesus says it isn’t what we eat that makes us impure, it’s what’s in our hearts.

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.”

This passage comes from another chapter on Jesus versus the Pharisees, men of the Temple who put their rules above God and humanity. In my copy of the Bible, a fuller reading of this chapter is a bit more about this encounter. The Pharisees can’t believe the disciples haven’t purified their hands before eating. And Jesus laments that they require a whole ritual around the purification of foods and eating implements, of what can be eaten and what cannot. Here, Jesus outright explains, nothing that comes from outside the body can make you impure — it’s what comes from inside, from the heart, that makes you impure. And then Jesus goes on to list all the things that come from from the heart that will make you impure.

This passage I present here is from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The list in my Bible (a Catholic Bible) is a little older but the list reads:  “Wicked designs come from the deep recesses of the heart: acts of fornication, theft, murder, adulterous conduct, greed, maliciousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, an obtuse spirit. All these evils come from within and render a man impure.” It’s a little different wording, while giving the same spirit of Jesus’s message.

Both versions say that Jesus declares all foods clean. So, there’s that. But His message here is that the Pharisees — essentially anyone who puts more emphasis on the letter of the law and the traditions of man, instead of the heart or intent of the law, who puts the law ahead of the interests of God and humanity — miss the central understanding that the fault lies not in what we take in but in what we issue outward, in particular what comes from our hearts. And when that happens, what usually comes from our hearts can be evil and, thus, can make us impure.

And as always, Jesus’s message is that the most important law is to love God and to love one another. When we put our emphasis on that law, there is less room in the heart for evil, less impure to issue out. Be of love and be more pure.

Glory to God!


“For this purpose have I come”

Jesus and His disciples can’t get away from the crowds in Mark 1:29-39, but Jesus gives himself up to serve God’s children. There’s a lesson for us here.

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left 
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

In yesterday’s reading (Mark 6:30-34) Jesus and His disciples are overwhelmed by the desire of the people to see Jesus. They can’t even eat. When they go out to a deserted place for a rest, the people find them. Jesus is moved with pity for them. In today’s reading, Jesus once again goes to a deserted place, to pray, and He is pursued because, “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus rises and goes to the nearby villages to preach and drive out demons. “For this purpose I have come,” He says.

There is no other purpose in a Christlike life but to serve others. Even overwhelmed by numbers, Jesus is moved by pity for God’s children and gives them all He has. He needs rest and prayer, but He sacrifices that time for us. That is love. And if we claim to love Him, if we claim to take up His yoke and follow in His way, then we must also do our best to serve others. Others.

Many treat Christianity as a time to receive the sacraments for ourselves. Faith in Christ is not just about us personally. It is about us as community. Christ calls on us to serve others. The sacraments are the gift of faith in Christ, but the gift back to God is faithfully serving others in His name. And we must remember, “For this purpose I have come.”

Today’s culture focuses on self-centeredness. It’s hard not to get caught up in it. Jesus teaches us another, better way. Other-centeredness. Giving to others; serving others. For this purpose you have come. Love one another.

Glory to God!

“They went off and preached repentance”

In Mark 6:7-13, Jesus sends His twelve disciples out to preach repentance. But what is repentance?

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick
–no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.
He said to them,
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them.”
So they went off and preached repentance.
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

There is the origin of today’s preachers and ministers and pastors preaching repentance. “So they went off and preached repentance.” Many focus on the breaking of God’s laws, the commandments. That’s what the scribes and Pharisees did, too. That’s the denotative meaning of repentance. But what about the connotative meaning, the heart of what it means?

Repentance is a change of heart. Thus, while the Twelve may truly have preached to turn away from sin, what is sin but rebelling against God? And what then is repentance but changing your heart and turning to God — in the words of Jesus, loving God? And loving others?

We cannot know what the Twelve said as they went out preaching. But in this passage we know that they drove out demons and they cured the sick. They were compassionate for the afflicted. Also they likely preached other teachings of Jesus in the care of the poor and disabled and others in need, those who were often ignored and despised by those to whom the Twelve preached.

Repentance. Change of heart. In the words of the Old Testament, we are “a stiff necked people”. But Jesus and His Twelve preached to us to open our hearts to one another, to love one another, to help one another, to aid one another, to cure one another, to drive out whatever demons inhabit one another. How can we resist that calling today? In Jesus’s name, amen.

Glory to God!

“Do you not understand this parable?”

In Mark 4:1-20 we hear the parable of the sewing of seeds. Jesus explains why some among us have trouble understanding parables.

On another occasion, Jesus began to teach by the sea.
A very large crowd gathered around him 
so that he got into a boat on the sea and sat down.
And the whole crowd was beside the sea on land.
And he taught them at length in parables, 
and in the course of his instruction he said to them, 
“Hear this! A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, 
and the birds came and ate it up.
Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep.
And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. 
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it 
and it produced no grain.
And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.
It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”

And when he was alone, 
those present along with the Twelve 
questioned him about the parables.
He answered them, 
“The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you.
But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that
they may look and see but not perceive,
and hear and listen but not understand,
in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.

Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable?
Then how will you understand any of the parables?
The sower sows the word.
These are the ones on the path where the word is sown.
As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once 
and takes away the word sown in them.
And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, 
when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy.
But they have no roots; they last only for a time.
Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, 
they quickly fall away.
Those sown among thorns are another sort.
They are the people who hear the word, 
but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, 
and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, 
and it bears no fruit.
But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it
and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

This passage speaks for itself. Jesus explains how some can hear the Gospels and either not understand them or not accept them. In this case, Jesus explains how receptive people are to parables, but I think it applies to how receptive they are to the Gospels in general as well.

We are under the influence of a lot of forces in the world. Certainly Satan plays his part, at war with God and not wanting the Word of God to take root. There are those whom he easily manipulates and they eagerly partake. And there are the weak of heart, who at first delight in the Word of God, then when they are tested or chided their hearts quickly fail them. And then there are those who are worldly and find their heart is with wealth or they are more ruled by the anxieties and fears of the world.

But there is among us a core of people close to God who hear His word and, pure of heart, accept it. To them, the parables and the Gospels are understood and they take them to heart and apply them in their daily lives.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell parts of these groups apart by their word. Satan twists peoples’ understanding of God’s Word. The weak or troubled of heart may misinterpret the Word or may manipulate it for their own benefit. But it isn’t in what people say that we can discern whether someone understand God’s Word, it is in what they do with it or because of it. Don’t listen to them, watch them.

By their actions will you know them. Be influenced only by those who read the Gospels and know what Jesus teaches and act accordingly. What does Jesus teach us? To love God and to love one another. What does Jesus do in the Gospels? He loves the Father and He loves others, showing it in the compassion and mercy He shows for them. Who does Jesus condemn? Not the sinner but the sin, and only the evil hypocrites. Who among us do you see practice this? By their actions will you know them.

And by their earnestness to understand can you help them. For we all want our brothers and sisters of the world to know Christ and find His salvation. “Do you not understand this parable?” You can. Open your heart, your mind, and your soul to it.

Glory to God!

“Quiet! Come out of him!”

Are we inhabited by unclean spirits we may not have imagined? In Mark 1:21-28, we learn what an unclean spirit may be.

Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said,
Quiet! Come out of him!
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

I love this passage, because it comments on Jesus’s teaching with authority that the scribes don’t have and He commanding unclean spirits to leave the afflicted. The unclean spirits themselves recognize Him as “the Holy One of God”. So we can’t read this passage without noting the recognition of the people of the synagogue and the unclean spirits alike noting Jesus’s authority.

Then as I read the passage, a line jumped out at me. There was a man with an unclean spirit, to whom Jesus commanded, “Quiet! Come out of him!” And the unclean spirit obeyed. And it made me wonder, how many of us have unclean spirits within us. How many of us act inappropriately, how many of us act against Jesus’s teaching because there are unclean spirits within us?

Now, usually when the Gospels talk about unclean spirits, someone has a physical affliction. And perhaps today in those instances we might translate those unclean spirits to be bacteria or viral infections. But consider that unclean spirits might also be like demons influencing our souls, our thinking, our feelings, our relationships with God and others.

And so perhaps we should consider when we are tempted to judge or condemn others, or if we are tempted to hate someone or even to treat someone with ill will, or when we are tempted to sin, if that isn’t from the influence of an unclean spirit. Might we pray to Jesus to command that unclean spirit (or those unclean spirits) to leave us. “Quiet! Come out of me!”

Another possible interpretation is that the unclean spirit is our own soul. What if “unclean spirit” is a metaphor for the diseased part of us that allows us to do what is against God’s will?

Maybe this passage is an opportunity to look inward and ask, how clean is my spirit? Is my spirit-within God-directed? Do I love God with all of my heart, with all of my mind, and with all of my soul? Do I love others as I love myself? Do I give in to the temptations of evil too easily. Is it time to purge myself of my unclean spirit — to clean up my act? Noting Jesus’s authority we say, in Jesus’s name, come out of me!

Glory to God!


Personal Prayer Request

I wouldn’t normally put my personal self in the middle of this blog, but I need your prayers my brothers and sisters in Christ. God hears our prayers and when we are genuine He answers them.

I have lived with an aneurysm for almost four years now, taking medications to keep it in check. Now it has reached the size in which it finally needs surgery. I am about to talk to new doctors because my vascular surgeon thinks this aneurysm is beyond his abilities to handle. He thinks what is to come will be complex and dangerous, perhaps perilous. The hospital he works with originally thought my aneurysm was beyond them and sent me to the other local hospital, which has an excellent heart and thoracic center, and they put me on the medicine to treat it. They will be one referral, and I hope they will give me more hopeful news. The second referral will be a major university in another part of the state, renown for vascular surgery, and I am also hopeful for their prognosis. It’s a new journey I am just beginning.

If you would be kind enough to pray for me, for my doctors, as I take this journey. Also for my family as they make the journey with me. I would be eternally grateful.

I have prayed to God and I accept His will, whatever it is. I know the Father loves me and will do what is best for me and my family. I know Jesus loves me and will heal me in whatever way the Father wills it. I know the Holy Spirit will give me the courage to trust in Them and the strength to accept their work.

Again, please pray for me. Please pray for my doctors and other health professionals. Please pray for the success of my surgery and my healing in God’s will. Please pray for my strength and courage and those of my family as we are personally tested to make it through what will be a difficult time. May God’s will be done.

Glory to God!

Thank you.

Alan Eggleston
Reading with God Blogger

“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil?”

In Mark 3:1-6 Jesus schools those who care more for the letter of the law than the heart of the law.

Jesus entered the synagogue.
There was a man there who had a withered hand.
They watched Jesus closely
to see if he would cure him on the sabbath
so that they might accuse him.
He said to the man with the withered hand,
“Come up here before us.”
Then he said to the Pharisees,
Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”
But they remained silent.
Looking around at them with anger
and grieved at their hardness of heart,
Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
He stretched it out and his hand was restored.
The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel
with the Herodians against him to put him to death.

Jesus’s question was posed to answer the question whether it was lawful to cure someone on the sabbath. But it actually goes deeper than that. Remove the sabbath from the quote and the question becomes, “Is it lawful to do good rather than to do evil?” You would think the answer would be obvious.

The “they” here are the scribes and Pharisees, who kept the laws of the Temple and watched to make sure the people observed and obeyed them. We have our own version of the scribes and Pharisees today, both formal (preachers, ministers, pastors, and church leaders) and informal (the self-righteous and judgmental lay people). And Jesus tried to teach them about the right way to live with the law, often condemning the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees who paid close attention to the letter of the law rather than the actual intent of the law. And he condemned those who made others observe laws while not observing them themselves. Basically, Jesus was saying, “Lighten up! The laws are to benefit humanity not shackle them.” He also said the people are not made for the law but the law is made for the people.

So how do we relate this passage to our lives today?

We are fairly used to working on the sabbath in the modern world. If not going to our regular jobs, certainly doing things requiring “work” in our lives, like cooking, cleaning house, taking the family on outings, shopping, doing hobbies, working on homework, and so on.

As far as the law, we aren’t quite as open to the heart or intent of the law. We still let our Pharisees and scribes of today frown or scowl us into submission with their interpretations of the law.

Conservatives will tell you that you can’t work on the sabbath, when the intent of the law is to give glory to God. That doesn’t mean you can’t give glory to God and still work at some point. The law wants us to remember God, to be mindful of Him on the sabbath. Even more important, the law wants us to love God always and everywhere, in our hearts, our minds, and our souls. It wants us to dwell on that in our hearts on the sabbath.

In the other laws, God wants us to live at peace with each other. And rather than interpret the laws strictly by their word, God wants us to interpret them at their heart or intent, which is to say, what did God really mean when He gave them to us. That’s why Jesus tells us, and I paraphrase here, though you may not commit adultery in the strictest word of the law, if you have lust in your heart for a married person or you are married and have lust in your heart for another person, you have committed adultery; though you have not killed someone outright, if you are angry with someone you are liable to the law none the less. The question isn’t, did I meet the standard for adultery or killing by the letter of the commandment, but did I fail to live peacefully and lovingly with my neighbor. You might not have stolen from your neighbor, but if you covet what belongs to them, you have still sinned.

With Jesus, there are no cheats or short cuts to the law.

Thus, He chides the Pharisees and scribes, “Is it lawful to do good rather than to do evil?” And do we as followers, as disciples, do good or evil when we focus on the letter of the law instead of the heart or intent of the law? Do we do God’s will when we judge others, when we condemn sinners, especially when as sinners we cannot even get the law straight ourselves?

When we focus on doing good for one another, we are pleasing God. That is living up to the law.

Glory to God!