"...fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly." (Mark 7:21:22)Interesting bunch of sins, here. Starts with the big ones that we all know about. The sex and death ones. We all know they're bad, yeah? And if being sinful can be equated with being "unclean" - as they would be in a ritual sense, I guess - then they're gonna make you dirty.
It's like Jesus is suckering us in here. Even in our modern day, we still know that sexual unfaithfulness is wrong. Though the 33 million people whose names were on the Ashley Madison website presumably think that adultery's not so bad as long as nobody knows you're doing it. And murder - that's bad. Killing people except in self-defence is wrong. Unless you can persuade yourself that it's for their own good, according to the bill currently back in Parliament again and former Archbishop George Carey. But yeah, adultery and murder - "proper" murder - they're wrong. And Jesus's hearers would have been going, yeah - good point.
And then he winds up with envy, slander, pride, folly....
Envy? Envy makes you unclean? On what planet would envy make you unclean? That's not much good news for our world. is it? We drive large chunks of our economy on envy. It's not enough to be safe and comfortable - we've got to have the right stuff. And ideally better right stuff than other people.
Slander? You having a laugh, Jesus? Slander? Where would we be without slander? How would we oil the time between arriving at work and going home - unless it was trying to work out how much John in accounts earns, and indulging in a bit of envy?
And the Church in particular seems to have a certain fondness for slander, backbiting and other such vicious activities. What brings out the biting best in us more than somebody at church we don't agree with? What could be better to bring out our dark side than somebody who doesn't receive Communion the right way, the hymn that we can't stand, the person who doesn't know the way to behave?
It's been a particular fear of mine that, if and when the Church in England dies out, there will be one last conversation between the two last Christians. And one will remark that, even at this final hour, he wasn't the one who forgot to bring the church keys and locked everybody out for ten minutes one Sunday morning, And then he'll die, having made one final cutting point.
It's a bit like the "Upper Class, Middle Class" sketch with the two Ronnies and John Cleese. It's all about things being relative, is slander. Why worry about your own standing with God or other people as long as you can ensure you feel just a little superior another? And that's where slander is driven by pride - a concern about your own position, a demand upon your own rights, an expectation that you'll get the respect you deserve. There was an episode of "Dad's Army" on this evening where Mainwaring found out that he shouldn't have been a captain.As Arthur Lowe brilliant played Mainwaring, with one pip fewer on each shoulder, you could see him shrink. That rank meant everything to him.
Jesus winds up with - of all the possible things we wouldn't expect in a list of things that make you unclean before God - folly. Folly? In what way could being foolish make you unclean? I mean take the famous last words of General John Sedgwick at the Battle of Spotsylvania - "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." That was foolish, but I don't think that's what Jesus was thinking about.
Foolishness is the opposite of wisdom. And wisdom in the Bible is about doing the right things to walk with God. It's mostly about being considered; being calm; being thoughtful; not overdoing stuff. And in the New Testament, Jesus directly quotes God calling somebody a fool.... so what's this foolishness?
It's in Luke 12. The parable of the man who made his fortune, built his barns, settled down to a long and enjoyable life - and died. And God calls him a fool - because instead of doing what God wanted, storing up treasure in heaven, he focussed on getting a decent retirement plan.
It's not about getting the ceremony right, it's not knowing the right way to genuflect, knowing all the words to "10,000 Reasons", It's about getting priorities right - to God, to each other. In that episode of Dad's Army, there's a lovely moment when Mainwaring, now busted down to a private, comes back to the church hall with no pips on his shoulder. He's lost his position, but he still realises he's got a duty.
The opposite to folly - the last of things that make us unclean - is wisdom. Wisdom says this is where we are, this is what God is like. The short-term things we use to put ourselves up against God and each other - they're not what we should be. True wisdom looks up to a cross and realises that the thing that makes us clean, is the giving up of all things we hold onto. The thing that means we are true with God is not a correct method of doing ceremonies - it's holding onto the Jesus that rejected all those temptations. We are not made clean through anything we can do - we are made clean because God makes us right with him. And if God makes us right with him then all those things - lust, murder, envy, pride and folly - we can reject them. Because they are worth nothing compared to God.