Keeping Up Appearances

If you've been given this article before church and you want to go ahead and spend some time with our text for this morning, grab a Bible and read Mark 7:1-23…

In an article for Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer, the author of The Science of Good and Evil talks about a conversation he recently had:

"I once had the opportunity to ask Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler's List, what he thought was the difference between Oskar Schindler, rescuer of Jews and hero of his story, and Amon Goeth, the Nazi commandant of the Plaszow concentration camp. His answer was revealing. Not much, he said. Had there been no war, Mr. Schindler and Mr. Goeth might have been drinking buddies and business partners, morally obtuse, perhaps, but relatively harmless. What a difference a war makes, especially to the moral choices that lead to good and evil."

Shermer goes on to quote Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

I've often said that it would be nice if all the "bad" people in this world were wearing black and had nasty handle bar moustaches. And wouldn't be easy if we could identify all the "good" people just by seeing how white their clothes are or by the superhero insignia on their chest?

So it's easy for me to identify with the Pharisees in the story that we're going to ready today. I understand why they wanted to concentrate on washing their hands and keeping ritually clean by not touching things that had been defiled. External holiness is so much easier to judge and maintain.

I identify with that, but it's simply not the case. Personal holiness is not a matter of making things look good on the outside. Like Jesus says in our reading for this morning. We are identifiable as "clean" or "unclean," "just" or "unjust," by the actions that we take—the natural outgrowths of who we are on the inside.