Why Don’t You Mind Your Own Business?
The Feast of Saint Scholastica
1 Kings 10: 1-10; Psalm 37: 5-6, 30-31, 39-40; Mark 7: 14-23
From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly
Mark 7, 21-22
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus weighs in on the matter of impurity. First he summons the crowd and says, “Hear me, all of you, and understand!” (v. 14) Then, afterwards, his disciples tell him that his sermon went over their heads. Jesus scolded them, “Are even you likewise without understanding?” (v. 18) The people of Jesus’ day had trouble getting a handle on the reality of impurity. For a variety of reasons, Americans in the 21st Century are at even more of a disadvantage.
Jesus identifies impurity as ‘evil thoughts’ or ‘evil designs’. In order to understand what he’s talking about, you’re going to have to develop a knack for stepping back from your own mental process and examining the way you think, and what motivates you. It takes practice in order to do this well, and you can’t even begin the process until you have the blessing of a really good listener – someone who not only takes the time to hear what you have to say, but who notices what goes on inside you.
What are the characteristics of this ‘really good listener’, this person who can help you examine the source of your own impurity and, more importantly, enable you to cleanse yourself of impurity as it develops? Let me tell you, you’ll be happy when you find someone who fills the bill! The first thing that good listener has to do is to get past your defenses. That’s the only way she, or he, is going to have a chance to notice what’s really happening between your ears.
What am I talking about when I mention our ‘defenses’, our ‘psychological sentinels’, the mental habits we’ve acquired in order to protect ourselves from attack? Let me explain it this way: Jesus enumerated twelve ‘evil thoughts’ that constitute impurity. He could have listed five, or fifty. The actual roster doesn’t matter, but I want you to go over that list right now and consider whatever ‘evil thought’ happens to suggests itself to your attention. Now, imagine that some particularly self-righteous individual that you know well were to approach you and say, “I’d like us to get together for an hour. I want us to have a thorough discussion about your [fill in the blank].” Wow! I’ll bet you’re not in the proper frame of mind to hear anything from anybody.
If I were to give voice to the attitude people exhibit when somebody else decides to draw attention to their impurity it would be this, “Leave me alone. Don’t tell me what to do.” There’s a very good reason for this attitude. Every one of us is surrounded by nosy busybodies who seem to have nothing better to do than to take stock of our imperfections. Sad to say, there’s a pretty good chance that once in a while you get some pleasure out of noticing someone else’s impurity. You might imagine yourself to be indignant or upset at another person’s ‘evil designs’ but there’s something satisfying about shining a light on those designs. The satisfaction, though, is short lived. Fault finding leaves us feeling bad about others, bad about ourselves, and bad about life.
On the other hand, it’s not possible to go through life blissfully unaware of other people’s faults. From today’s passage it’s obvious that Jesus had a pretty good idea of what kind of people we are. It’s painful to read his list. In fact, it’s hard to believe that the gentlest, kindest, most compassionate man who ever lived could be so blunt, and so detailed about impurity. We’re all quite familiar with blunt conversations about human impurity – generally these conversations take place when the object of discussion is out of earshot. It’s nearly unbearable to listen to our associates air their ‘true feelings’ about our evil thoughts, and our evil designs.
We can’t live by ignoring fault, and we can’t live with having fault pointed out. It’s a real dilemma. I think the solution lies in changing one’s orientation toward impurity – and that’s where the really good listener comes in. If someone could examine the mess we’ve made of the thinking that goes on in our heads without blaming us, without telling us we’re bad, without expecting us to be able to clean up the mess on our own, we might be in a position to actually find some relief from impurity.
The good listener can only get us so far. Eventually we’re going to have to learn how to listen to ourselves, and we’re going to have to listen regularly because day-to-day life is going to instill new impurities into our mental apparatus all the time. When you listen to yourself, really listen to yourself, listen in the way that God listens to His precious children, the experience is like taking a hot, soapy ‘spiritual shower’. But here’s a little secret – in order to keep listening to yourself, you’re going to have to learn to listen to others.
You won’t have to learn anything new in order to start taking stock in the actions, and thoughts, and motivations of other people. You’re already doing that. What’s new is how you’re going to start making sense of what you see. To know people is to know greed, and unchastity, and folly, and arrogance and all the other things on this list or on any list you could draw up. These are things that exist in all of us and they’re things we all want to be free of. It’s no wonder that we want to be free of them. They block us from trust and hope and, most of all, joy. The trouble is that most people are stuck. They’re stuck in the way they look at others, and they’re stuck in the way they look at themselves. Our impurities make us stuck and the defenses we’ve built to protect ourselves from other people’s fault-finding make us stuck.
Things will improve when you start making it your business to draw people out instead of binding them up. That’s about forgiveness, and it’s also about acceptance. Mostly, though, it’s about us listening to each other in the way God designed us to – with the understanding that He wants us all to enjoy the pure goodness of His love.