Week of 5 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 1   11 comments

Above: A Sink

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Actual and Imagined Purity

FEBRUARY 8, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

These are the records of the skies and the earth when they were created:  In the sky that YHWH made earth and skies–when all produce of the field had not yet been in the earth, and all vegetation of the field had not yet grown, for YHWH God had not rained on the earth, and there had been no human to work the ground, and a river had come up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground–

YHWH God fashioned a human, dust from the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being.

And YHWH God planted a garden in Eden at the east, and He set the human whom He had fashioned there.  And YHWH God caused every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for eating to grow from the ground, and the tree of life within the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.

And YHWH God took the human and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and to watch over it.  And YHWH God commanded the human, saying,

You may eat from every tree of the garden.  But from the tree of knowledge of good and bad:  you shall not eat from it, because in the day you eat from it:  you’ll die!

Psalm 104:25, 28-31 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

25 O LORD, how manifold are your works!

in wisdom you have made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

28 All of them look to you

to give them their food in due season.

29 You give it to them; they gather it;

you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.

30 You hide your face, and they are terrified;

you take away their breath,

and they die and return to their dust.

31 You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;

and so you renew the face of the earth.

Mark 7:14-23 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then he called the crowd close to him again, and spoke to them,

Listen to me now, all of you, and understand this.  There is nothing outside a man which can enter into him and make him “common”.  It is the things which come out of a man that make him “common!

Later, when he had gone indoors away from the crowd, his disciples asked him about this parable.

He said,

Oh, are you as dull as they are?  Can’t you see that anything that goes into a man from outside cannot make him ‘common’ or unclean?  You see, it doesn’t go into his heart, but into his stomach, and passes out of the body altogether, so that all food is clean enough.  But,

he went on,

whatever comes out of a man, that is what makes a man ‘common’ or unclean.  For it is from inside, from men’s hearts and minds, that evil thoughts arise–lust, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly!  All these evil things come from inside a man and make him unclean!


The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


One of the advantages to reading Biblical passages, especially those familiar to one, in translations (not just one version) is finding shades of meaning emphasized in various ways.  The J. B. Phillips New Testament in Modern English, the second edition of which I have quoted, is wonderful in that it fulfills this function well.

Compare the Phillips translation to other versions.  Phillips says “make a man ‘common.'”  More traditional translations say “defile him.”  What is it about being “common” that is allegedly defiling?  Ritual uncleanliness–in this case, tied to the washing of one’s hands before eating–was part of a purity code.  To be pure ritually was to be separate from–excuse the double entendre–the great unwashed.  I think of a parable Jesus told elsewhere.  A Pharisee and a tax collector (a tax thief and a Roman collaborator) were praying in the same space.  The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like the tax collector and listed a catalog of his good works.   But the tax collector was humble before God, and he went away justified.

I have DVDs (available from the Learning Company) of Luke Timothy Johnson teaching about the Gospels.  Professor Johnson states that one of the themes in Mark is that the seeming insiders really are not insiders.  This analysis holds up well, based on my reading of that canonical Gospel.  What is more seemingly “inside” than the religious establishment?  Many of these people liked to cling to notions of ritual purity.  But, as Jesus tells us, that misses the point.  What is inside makes us pure or impure; what we consume does not.

The first part of the second creation myth from Genesis tells us that God breathed life into Adam.  I leave the details of life and evolution to scientists, and the specifics of theology to theologians.  Each is a different way of knowing, and both are valuable.  The myth does contain truths, and among them is this one:  we are all precious in the eyes of God.  We have that in common.

Imagined purity functions to define the allegedly pure as such and the different others as impure.  It reinforces class systems and religious prejudices.  Yet God, as the prophet Samuel said, does not look at us as we look at each other; God looks at who and what we really are.  Therein lies our purity or lack thereof.

Our challenge today is to examine ourselves and check ourselves for any indication of a fixation on ritual purity, regardless of the form it takes.  Are we viewing others as God perceives them, or in a way conducive to reinforcing our egos?

Miserere mei Deus.




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