Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23 & Song of Solomon 2.8-13
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
'This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.'
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
Can’t you just see Jesus wringing his hands and shaking his head as he pulls Isaiah’s wisdom from his heart saying, “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Can you hear how frustrated Jesus is when he says to the people, to us, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand:” God wants your heart.” Oh dear – I have no idea how to give my heart to God?
Thank goodness for the wise ones who went before. Nine hundred years before Jesus was born the writer of Solomon’s love songs knew all about giving his heart to God. And these love songs, these tales of transforming love between God and God’s people, were the wisdom tradition in which Jesus grew up. Who knows how many times he heard Solomon’s songs; on high holy days? maybe even every Friday night? I believe Jesus carried Solomon’s love songs in his heart and they shaped his relationship with God and God’s people.
Today we join Jesus and reach into this beautiful wisdom tradition to learn about love, God’s love and human love. To hear love call us the beloved, to discover that love is strong as a stag and alive as a gazelle. To hear love’s invitation “come away with me,” and love’s promise of new life, “the vines are in blossom, they give forth fragrance.” Life alone, in darkness, in isolation, alienation, desolation is over because God is calling to us, the beloveds, “arise my love… and come away with me….with me.” God is calling to us as individuals and as a community. There is new life for us, for all of us because God intends us to live in love with God and one another.
In the early 12th century St. Bernard of Clairvaux described coming away with God this way. “As a drop of water seems to disappear completely in a big quantity of wine, even assuming the wine’s taste and color; just as red, molten iron becomes so much like fire it seems to lose its primary state… so it is necessary … that all human feelings melt in a mysterious way and flow into the will of God.” Flow into the will of God. How do we flow into the will of God? In what might be the world’s longest sermon series, Bernard wrote 86 sermons on Solomon’s Songs trying to answer that question, how do we flow into the will of God? In the end I believe it comes to this… love God without measure.
“Listen to me, all of you, and understand,” God wants your heart.
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
The voice of my beloved!Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,and come away;
for now the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.”