This week, we return to Mark’s Gospel. The title above summarizes the familiar story.
- Which would you prefer for a next-door neighbor: a person of excellent habits or a person with a good heart?
- It is wonderful to have a neighbor who conscientiously cares for his property while respecting your property.
- Which would you prefer for a friend: a person of excellent habits, or a person with a good heart?
- It is wonderful to have a friend who always treats you considerately and with respect.
- Which would you prefer for a husband or a wife: a person of excellent habits, or a person with a good heart?
- It is wonderful to be married to a spouse who always is thoughtful and courteous, one who is always gracious in words and actions.
As wonderful as those situations are, none of them compare to having a neighbor, a friend, a spouse with a good heart. When you discuss good behavior, you are discussing the quality of a person’s habits. When you discuss a good heart, you are discussing the quality of the person.
This is the focus of today’s Gospel reading. Pharisees and teachers have come down from Jerusalem and, interestingly, they are gathered around Jesus, watching His disciples. The disciples, it seems, have come in from the day’s work. Too tired and too hungry to care that their hands and faces were dirty, they immediately sat down to eat without washing. The Pharisees jump on this ceremonial oversight and question Jesus: Why don’t your disciples live according to the traditions of the elders and clean their hands before they eat? This is all that Jesus needs to hear. He defends His disciples, turns on these teachers and says in essence, “Why do you not live according to the traditions of God and clean your hearts?”
What mistake did these Pharisees make? It is easy for us to fall into a good habit and leave behind a good heart and still believe that we are righteous before God. But what is Jesus telling us? What is Jesus trying to convey, not only to them, but to us as well?
- We seem to prefer creeds to deeds.
- We more often look at the outside, not the inside of the person.
- Jesus is speaking of the Spirit of the Law before the Letter of the Law.
- God requires good creeds, deeds and especially hearts.