Some of us like to follow the rules. Today’s readings are about rules and the spirit behind them, and they offer important and challenging lessons.
The first reading for this week from Deuteronomy is very clear that we should follow the 10 commandments, one of which says, “Thou shalt not lie.”
When I went to Tanzania in 1985, it was illegal for residents like myself to keep foreign currency. Upon entering the country, the law required us to change dollars into Tanzanian shillings. After that, if we left the country, we had to pay US$20. But it was impossible to change shillings back into dollars at the bank. So the priests told us to change some of our dollars into Tanzanian shillings, hide the rest and lie when asked if we had any foreign exchange. I found it difficult but I did it. I felt better when I followed the rules.
The rule of law is important. Laws are made to address specific problems and with good reason.
I lived in many cultures when I worked as a physician in East Africa, and we always carefully washed our hands before eating just as the Jews did, as noted in today’s Gospel. These rules provided good hygiene, and I was grateful for them. But this passage from the Gospel of Mark has always been challenging for me, because Jesus, responding to the criticism of his disciples by the Pharisees, says, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”
Franciscan theologian Sister Ilia Delio helped me understand this idea about things that defile us from the inside when I heard her speak about evolutionary consciousness. She spoke about how we are fragile, weak individuals. We must come to a greater consciousness of the darkness within us.
Each of us has many things within us which are unreconciled, including our hurts, disappointments and biases. We must enter into our own darkness, let go and allow the absolute love of God, which also resides within us, to rise up from that darkness into a new light for us. Perhaps this unconscious darkness is what Jesus refers to when he says, “All these evils come from within and they defile.”
I got a glimpse of what happens when a person lets go of their darkness and allows the love of God within to rise up from the darkness. My friend, Mary, and I are both white, in our mid 60s and in the same book club in Illinois. Recently she came to book club with this story.
Mary was at home at noon when she heard banging on her front door. Outside were two young African American men. They had banged on other doors but no one answered. They were frightened and begging her to open the door. They said there was a man with a gun outside who was following them. As she told this story I got frightened myself. This past year has brought so much death and increased gun violence to our town. I thought to myself, “Don’t open that door!”
Mary opened the door. The two guys burst into her house and told her to stay away from the window out of sincere concern for her safety. She is an EMT and saw blood dripping from the back of one of the men. A bullet had entered one side of his back and was lodged just under the skin by his neck. She could see the bulge of the bullet. She called 911, provided first aid and sent him off to the hospital in an ambulance. He required surgery and survived. Mary saved his life.
Mary could have seen those two African American men as a threat to her safety, trying to enter her house to rob or kill her. Instead, she saw two scared men who needed help and when she let them in, she found one of them had been shot. There really was a man outside with a gun!
Why did she open the door? Mary is one of those people who has entered deep into her consciousness and found not only darkness but the love of God that also resides within her. She has welcomed the word of God that James says in today’s second reading is planted deep within us. She has become a doer of that word.
Mary let go and allowed the absolute love of God to rise up within her. She didn’t let fear or common racial biases dictate her actions. By opening that door, she followed the law of love. Let us cultivate that law deep within each one of us.
Scripture reflection for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Aug. 29, 2021 (22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)
For more scripture reflections from Maryknoll lay missioners, click here.