22 April 2020, The Tablet

The sins of the heart are worse than non-conformity with rules


The sins of the heart  are worse than non-conformity with rules
 

Our Lord got quite irritable with those Pharisees who criticised the disciples for not washing their hands before eating; right now, I fancy, our sympathies would be with the obsessive hand washers. But there was more to his riposte to the Pharisees in the gospel of Mark that should make us think. He said, twice, “Can’t you see that nothing that goes into a person from outside can make that person unclean because it goes not into the heart but into the stomach and passes into the sewer? (Thus he pronounced all foods clean.)” It is one of the very rare occasions when the gospel writer actually glossed the text.

Well, of course Our Lord spoke with authority and his point was that the sins of the heart are worse than non-conformity with rules. But given that one hypothesis – not the only one – to account for the spread of the coronavirus is that it derived from the consumption of bats sold in Chinese wet markets (possibly via pangolins), I am starting to have a little more sympathy with the concept of unclean food.

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