Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23:
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 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,You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."...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.”...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.”
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
Wow. That's a pretty heavy list with a set of fairly charged words Jesus uses in this passage. Our immediate response to these words is to take three steps back and say "NOT ME!" Our gut reaction is often to flare up, defend, argue back when words like these are used...so much so that in our relationships, we often tend not to use "charged words" like these, simply because we know their power to inflame and to wound. Marriages have hit the skids, friendships have been dashed against the rocks, and family members become further estranged as the result of the careless use of "charged words" with less wounding power than these.
We go out of our way to avoid a "charged word", even to the point of dancing clear around it. So even reading this passage, I admit to bristling up a little. It seems to be so...well..."Un-Jesus like." It conjures up that old cartoon phrase of "them's fightin' words."
But we have to look at the context of this passage. Jesus brings up this list because the Pharisees are dissing Jesus and the disciples for not engaging in ritual hand-washing before eating. So when Jesus uses these "charged words," he is not using them in the way most of us do (flat-out name-calling) but instead is pointing out that no dirt on anyone's hands can defile us. However, what comes out of us...what we say...what we do...how we react...DOES defile us. It is what comes out of US that betrays God, not what anyone or anything out of our control does to us.
In other words, "Pot. Kettle. Black."
I thought back to the last time anyone ever used charged, angry words at me, or I used charged, angry words to someone else. It was a powerful realization.
What I discovered was, when I have been the RECIPIENT of charged, angry words, my gut level response is usually, "Well, who the f@#% are YOU?" The litany of that other person's faults immediately jumped in my brain. Yet, if there wasn't just a tiny kernel of truth in their angry diatribe, it wouldn't hurt, now would it? Sometimes, the opposite happens. They DO wound me, make me feel diminished. It kind of depends on the situation and the person doing it. But in those instances, when they do wound me, I am allowing self-betrayal to sneak in.
When I have been the USER of charged, angry words, I am almost always hiding my own dirt. It's a subconscious deflection of my own woundedness, and based in the need to spread my own sins all over someone else. Yet, if that other person hadn't wounded me in some way, I would never have resorted to those angry words, now would I? I also realized that sometimes, when I am the "user", sometimes I am playing offense with them, but sometimes I am playing defense.
What it boils down to is this:
When we pass judgments on the sins of others and try to wound others with charged words, our own sins are ever before us.
When we are wounded by the angry words of others, there is a failure to ever realize the problem that caused the angry interchange is almost never unilateral.
Sometimes there is collateral damage when this happens. Sometimes, someone who wasn't even THERE during an angry interchange gets the brunt of what happened. We "take it out on someone else"--become more irritated with a third person, an unrelated situation, church, work--you name it. It's the figurative "go kick the dog" behavior.
It made me realize that the things that we resent in others, or the things others resent in us, are probably more about the "resenter" than the "resentee."
So what's it all mean?
It means that if we really believe in the power of our own conversions of life, that we must constantly be aware of, and NOT be afraid to address by name, our own sins, visible and secret. It means we can no longer avert our gaze at our own shortcomings but look them in the eye and let the Holy Spirit detach us from their power to WOUND OURSELVES.
That, to me, is the power of true Christian humility...to keep our own sins ever before us when assessing the sins of others, or when we feel the sting of angry words.