Many of you, no doubt, remember the TV program Monk. It was about a former policeman turned detective Sherlock Holmes style. The major problem about him was that he tended to be “super clean.” That is, he seemed to be so afraid of germs that he had his associate next to him ready to hand him a handy wipe even when he shook someone’s hand. There were many who felt that this type of behavior was turning the concept of cleanliness way out of proportion.
In the Gospel for the twenty second Sunday in Ordinary Time ((Mk. 7:1-8, 14-15; 21-23) Jesus believes that the Scribes and Pharisees around him are turning the concept of cleanliness way out of proportion. The Scribes and Pharisees make a big deal out of the fact that the some of Jesus’ disciples don’t wash their hands before meals. After all, it is in their “tradition” to do so.
Jesus took the opportunity to clarify for everyone present what was really clean and what was not. His quote from the prophet Isaiah actually made that distinction. It is not what goes into a person that makes that individual unclean, but rather what comes out of a person that does so, e.g. hypocrisy.
True defilement comes from inside the person, such as anger, jealousy, deceit, pride, just to enumerate a few. Remember Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? He made it clear that “I have come not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.” What did Jesus mean by “fulfillment?” He meant that sin could be internal (e.g. decisions) as well as external (actions.)
This brings us to the classic notion of “temptation.” Remember that temptation is not a sin, but, rather an occasion for sin. That is, one is faced with the choice of choosing for God or against God. The longer one holds on to the temption the more difficult it becomes to choose for God. Choice is internal and has the possibility of being sinful.
What can we learn from this? First of all, sin begins inside the person, e.g. anger or jealousy. Then a choice is made. The choice permits us to be clean or not clean. Secondly, when temptation comes ask the question: Who will profit most from my choice? God? My neighbor? Or just myself? A good reminder while reflecting on the choice is a quote from Matthew: “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world, but forefeit their life?” (Matt. 16:26)