What defiles a person?
There is nothing from without a man that entering into him, can defile him. But the things which come from a man, those are they that defile a man. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.”(Mark 7: 15,18–19)
The 7th chapter of the gospel of Mark has 3 main narratives— the question of defilement (making someone impure), healing of a Syro-Phoenician woman, where the infamous comment of Jesus on “children’s food not given to dogs” is used, and the healing of a deaf man, which has the famous word, Ephphata. I will mostly limit to the first part here; after a discussion on Sabbath and washing hands, Jesus tells about the things that defile a human being. What is coming from outside, especially the food, doesn’t defile anyone. It may have the maximum possibility of making us sick if it’s spoiled or rotten.
What about the images, ideas, words we assess with our senses, which come to us from the outside world? Being social beings those experiences influence us, modify us. But the interesting question do they defile us? I think the answer of Jesus is a NO. What defiles us comes from our heart? How I process those aspects coming from outside, depends a lot on me. It is also true that our life situations do influence the way our hearts process those aspects from the outside. But my responsibility can’t be avoided. Or in some sense, I hear a call for accepting my own weakness, difficulties, shortcomings along with all my talents and goodness, instead of pointing the fingers outside.
What does it mean for the Church? A lot of people leave the church, which is the same for most of the denominations. Some of the erstwhile believers turn and become less fervent about those beliefs? Now, where is the problem? Some will point out that the problem lies with contemporary philosophy, science, culture, fashion, thinking patterns, morality, etc. I am not saying that they are perfect, but finding the problem outside is like a certain political strategy. The strategy involves finding an enemy outside during the moments of crisis or the election, so that your followers can be kept together and that they rarely challenge the institution.
Probably the saying of Jesus in the 7th chapter of Mark may invite the Church to look within for its own difficulties. Or can the crisis be an opportunity for renewal? Renewal to become more Jesus-like. It’s another story that conservatives and progressives will have different opinions on what is Jesus-like. But it is good that they may agree on the point that becoming more Jesus-like is important.