In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
He names thirteen different manifestations of sin. Maybe we can look at those as we would an examination of conscience and consider which ones apply to us. Maybe it’s evil thoughts, such as wishing harm upon another person. Maybe it’s theft, adultery, envy, or blasphemy, which in this context is meant as slander—that is, making false statements about someone to damage their reputation. Maybe there are some among us who are batting a thousand on all those, but more likely, any one of us would honestly say within, that some of those apply to us, while others do not.
There are different ways to sin. And as St. John further distinguishes in his first letter, “There is such a thing as deadly sin....All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly” (1 John 5:16-17). There is deadly sin— that is, mortal sin—and those that are not deadly: venial sin. Yes, there are different
types of sin, and some are more harmful than others, but varied as sin might be, it all comes from one place: the human heart. Gossip, robbery, adultery: they all have a common place of origin.
St. Bede, an 8th century monk, said, “Some believe that evil thoughts are inspired wholly by the devil and that the human will cannot be held responsible for them. It is true that the devil can inspire and encourage evil thoughts, but he is not their origin” (St. Bede, In Marci Evangelium, 2,7,20-21). It’s us, our hearts.
To help us better understand this, let’s consider Jesus’ words: “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person”. Let’s not misunderstand him. Just as our bodies are affected, for better or for worse, by what we put in them in terms of food, chemicals, medications, etc., there’s no question that our hearts are likewise affected by what goes in: how we feed our consciousness and form our moral understanding, the things we watch, the things we read, the things we listen to, and company we keep.
The heart, the singular source of sin, is inclined to be a source of sin, depending on how we care for it, what we expose it to, and what we put into it.
But similarly, and every bit as much a part of our experience, the wounds we bear, whether on our bodies, our spirits and our souls, it will affect what types of fruits emerge from our spirits. Those wounds produce what becomes manifested in our living. Each of us has received wounds in our lifetime—sometimes self-inflicted and other times at the hands of another person—and despite whatever way the pain seems to subside, or time seems to heal, the wounds and their effects often remain deep within. Often these hidden wounds become manifested in our struggles in relationships, our fears, our lingering shame and so on.
Just as what goes up, comes down, so what goes into our hearts will come back out. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that he wants to be what goes into our hearts, so that he can be what comes out of them. And similarly, for the wounds that remain deep within our hearts—wounds that affect our bodies, our minds or our souls—it will be in letting Jesus into those wounds, and even the painful experiences from our past that served as their origin, that we will begin to find more beauty that comes out of us.
It makes me think of the beautiful promise God made through the prophet Ezekiel (36:26-30).: “I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you....you will be my people, and I will be your God....I will summon the grain and make it plentiful...I will increase the fruit on your trees and the crops in your fields....” And I believe He would add: I will take away the pain within your broken heart. I will restore the Sacred Heart I gave you when you were born, and from that, from out of you, will come life for others. Just give me space within you. Allow me to live in your heart.