It’s not what goes into a Man that Defiles Him

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READINGS

Mark 7:1-23
1 ​​And there are gathered unto Him the Pharisees, and some of the scribes, who came from Jerusalem. 2 ​​And having seen° some of His disciples eating bread with defiled, that is to say with unwashed, hands, they found fault. 3 ​​For the Pharisees and all the Jews, unless they wash their hands up to the wrists, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders; 4 ​​and when they come from the market, unless they wash, they eat not; and many other things there are which they have received to hold, as the rinsing of cups, and pots, and bronze vessels, and beds. 5 ​​Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why walk not Thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands? 6 ​​And° He answering said to them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honors Me with their lips, but° their heart is far from Me. 7 ​​And° in vain do they worship Me, teaching teachings° which are the precepts of men. 8 ​​For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and cups; and many other such like things you do. 9 ​​And He said to them, Well you spurn the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 ​​​For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother, and he who speaks evil of father or mother, let him die the death. 11 ​​​But° you say, It is sufficient if a man shall say to father or mother, Corban , that is to say, it is an offering, by whatever thou mightest be profited by me, 12 ​​​and you let him no more do anything for his father or his mother, 13 ​​​making the Word of God of no effect by your tradition which you have delivered up; and many such like things you do. 14 ​​​And when He had called all the crowd to Him, He said to them, Hearken to Me all of you, and understand: 15 ​​​There is nothing from outside a man which entering into him can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they which defile the man. 16 ​​​If anyone have ears to hear, let him hear. 17 ​​​And when He was entered into a house from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. 18 ​​​And He says to them, Are you so without understanding also? Do you not consider that every thing from outside which enters into a man, cannot defile him; 19 ​​​because it enters not into his heart, but into the belly, and goes out into the latrine, cleansing all the foods? 20 ​​​And° He said, That which comes out of a man, that defiles the man. 21 ​​​For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil reasonings, adulteries, whoredoms, murders, 22 ​​​thefts, avarice , wickednesses, deceit, lasciviousness, a wicked eye, blasphemy, pride, senselessness; 23 ​​​all these wicked things come from within, and defile the man.

Apocalypse Explained 622 [5]
Whatsoever from without goeth into the man cannot render him unclean, because it goeth not into his heart but into the belly; and is cast out into the draught purging all foods. But that which goeth forth out of the man, that rendereth the man unclean; for from within out of the heart of men it goeth forth (Mk 7:18-21; Matt. 15:17-20).

These words must be thus understood, that all things, whether falsities or evils, that from things seen or things heard flow into the thought of the understanding and not into the affection of its will, do not affect or infect the man, since the thought of a man’s understanding, so far as it does not proceed from the affection of his will, is not in the man but outside of him, therefore it is not appropriated to him; it is similar with truth and good. This the Lord teaches by correspondences when He says that “that which enters through the mouth into the belly does not render a man unclean, because it does not enter into the heart, for that which enters into the belly is cast out into the draught;” which means that whatever enters into the thought of man’s understanding from without or from the outside, whether from objects of sight or from objects of speech or from objects of the memory, does not render him unclean, but so far as it is not of his affection or will it is separated and cast out, as what is taken into the belly is cast out into the draught. These spiritual things the Lord explained by natural things, since the foods that are taken into the mouth and thus pass into the belly signify such things as man takes in spiritually and with which he nourishes his soul; this is why the “belly” corresponds to the thought of the understanding and signifies it. That the “heart” signifies the affection of man’s will has been shown above; also that only that which is made a part of a man’s affection or will is appropriated to him. Evidently spiritual, not natural, things are here meant, for the Lord says that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, whoredoms, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies.” Since the falsities and evils that enter from without into the thoughts enter from the hells, and if not received by man with the will’s affection are cast back into the hells, it is said that “they are cast out into the draught,” for the “draught” signifies hell; and for the reason that in the hells all things are unclean, and those who are there have been cast out of heaven, which is like a man in form, and is therefore called the Greatest Man and also corresponds to all things of man, while the hells correspond to what is cast out of the belly of the Greatest Man or heaven; this is why hell is meant in the spiritual sense by the “draught.” The “belly” is said “to purge all foods,” because the “belly” signifies the thought of the understanding, as has been said above, and “foods” signify all spiritual nourishments, and the thought of the understanding is what separates unclean things from what are clean, and thus purges.

SERMON
So it’s not what goes into a man that defiles him but what comes out of the heart.  This is such an important teaching to hold in mind when engaged with the work of self-examination and repentance.  When we begin to examine our life through the practise of truths from the Word we begin to bring who and what we are into the light.  And this can be a disconcerting thing.  We begin to see we are not who we thought ourselves to be, we find that we hold to attitudes that are contrary to the life of charity and express views and opinions that are filled with self-righteous judgments.  

Of course prior to making an effort to examine our life these things were present in us without us giving them a second thought. The reason we are oblivious to what’s taking our attention most of the time is because we have invested in a self-image that only attends to those things that affirm it and disregards those things that tend to contradict it.

The Word is the Lord and what’s within it describes how truths impact on human states of consciousness.  Everything in it relates to the human mind, that is to every human mind in particular and to the human condition in general.  If we accept this then we know that everything in the text, every event, every person, describes mental or spiritual phenomena that is active within us, right now.  This idea is something we need to make a conscious effort to keep to the forefront of our mind as we come to the Word to engage with it.  If we are able to do that we will find we open ourselves up to receiving things from the Word in a different way.  Take our reading from Scripture for today.  Everything in this reading describes things related to our own states of consciousness and the processes involved when truth shines its light into our mental or spiritual life.  The historical context is simply given as a means by which we can access things that relate to our own states of mind.  The Lord isn’t interested in giving us a history lesson in how the religious leaders of the day treated Him.  What he is interested in though is revealing, to those who are willing to work with Him as the Word, how certain attitudes belonging to the human proprium in us responds to the light of truth.

We all carry an understanding of what the Word teaches, we all have a preferred image of our self that rests in that, we have aspects of our self that is disciple like, that eats with unwashed hands, but we also have a critical fault finding self that we are much less aware of called the proprium which is represented here by the Pharisees and the scribes.  Now we need to understand that there are powerful forces at work that keeps those aspects of ourselves that we hold to that are contrary to the life of heaven hidden from our awareness because they are contrary to the image we like to project of ourselves.  No one wants to be seen as a hypocrite, so when the proprium is active in this regard these forces work to hide its hypocritical attitudes through self-justifications that blind us to seeing this hypocrisy in our own attitudes.  These self-justifications are what are described in the reading as, “washing the hands.”  To “wash our hands” of something is to deny our responsibility in the matter.

Perhaps the most powerful image of this state found in the Word is in Matt 27 where Pilate, despite finding no fault in the Lord, handed him over to be crucified…

20  ​​​But° the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds, that they should ask  for Barabbas, and° destroy Jesus.  21  ​​​And° the governor answering said to them, Which of the two will° ye that I release to you? And° they said, Barabbas.  22  ​​​Pilate says to them, What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ? They all say to him, Let Him be crucified.  23  ​​​And° the governor said, Why, what evil has He done? But° they cried out exceedingly, saying, Let Him be crucified!  24  ​​​And° Pilate seeing that he profits nothing, but that rather an uproar comes to pass, taking water he washed ◠off his hands before the crowd, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just Man, you shall see.           

This is a very graphic picture of how the proprium responds to the light of truth.  In Pilate we have represented the understanding aspect of our minds while in the Jews we have a picture of the unregenerate will steeped in the loves of self and the world.  One lesson here is that if truth from the Word is seen, yet not acknowledged through practise, so that the affections are purified, then the understanding bends to the desires of the will.  What’s released is “Barabbas” while that which is destroyed is, “Jesus who is called the Christ” or the power of truth to bring about our salvation. The name Barabbas means, “son of abba” or “son of the father” and given the context must represent the acceptance of the falsity of evil in the place of the truth of good which is the true “Son of the Father.”

The “washing of the hands” as a response to what truth reveals is something we are all party to when we are identified with the interests of our proprium.  The whole point in the Lord presenting this to us through the Word is to provide us with what we need if we are to escape the hold that the “traditions of the elders” has over our minds. These subtle unconscious self-justifications work constantly to make the Word of no effect.  We have to come to see that what the Word teaches concerning our proprium is true.  The Word is given so that we can make a conscious effort to examine the life of our mind in the light of its truths and through this identify those things that prevent the life of heaven being more fully present within us and have them removed.  

One of the challenges we all have to face in the work of self-examination is getting beyond our attachment to what flows into our minds as something coming from us.  We tend to think that because the thoughts and feelings we experience are in our mind that they are in us or a part of us or come from us.  Like the Pharisees and scribes we can become obsessed with what is flowing in from what is external to our self and in this way be distracted from attending to the more deeply set evils of the heart.  The Word teaches us that all things flow in but the issue lies with what we have taken into our life as our own.  This is clearly seen in this well-known passage from Heaven and Hell…

If man believed, as is really true, that all good is from the Lord and all evil from hell, he would not make the good in him a matter of merit nor would evil be imputed to him; for he would then look to the Lord in all the good he thinks and does, and all the evil that inflows would be cast down to hell whence it comes. But because man does not believe that there is any influx into him either from heaven or from hell, and so supposes that all the things that he thinks and wills are in himself, and therefore from himself, he appropriates the evil to himself, and the inflowing good he defiles with merit.   HH 302

What this means is that we can view all that enters our minds as merely objects that are falling within the field of our mental sight and not necessarily something intrinsic to ourselves.  If we can do this then the power of the hells in our life can begin to be weakened and broken.  Our true self is found in the vision the Lord has for our life, which is that of a loving, joyful, angelic being. But if we are to enter into this heavenly sense of self then we have to work with the Word to free ourselves from our identification with that sense of self that is rooted in identifying with both good and evil influences that flow into us.  

We all have a proprium or sense of self that has appropriated both evil and good to itself so some of the objects appearing in our mental landscape as we commit to a life of self-examination and repentance are going to look pretty ugly.  The Pharisees and scribes in us will find fault and try to say that the very presence of these things shows us that we are unworthy of heaven, they will tell us that “we eat bread with unwashed hands” implying that the good that we ingest through working with the Word is obviously contaminated due to the heightened visibility of evils and falsities that the work of self-examination and repentance produces. This is simply not the case.  The Pharisees and scribes represent those forces in the proprium that work against what the Word teaches is necessary for our salvation.  They either say, we are fine just as we are, or that we are so far gone, why bother.  Both points of view need to be rejected.  The truth is that so long as we avoid the work of self-examination and repentance we will remain bound to a sense of self rooted in the unregenerate loves of the proprium; that until we compel ourselves to actively engage with the Word we have not yet acknowledged the Lord as our saviour. 

The Word is provided so that we can have an objective standard against which we can examine the life of our mind.  Everyone entering into the spiritual path of self-examination and repentance from the Word begins from the belief that they are source of all that passes through their minds.  This false understanding can only be corrected if we are willing to do what the Word asks of us and begin to examine the quality of mental life in the light of truths from the Word.  The teaching from the Apocalypse explained is something we can draw on to support us in doing this while holding onto a proper perspective in it all. 

14 ​​​And when He had called all the crowd to Him, He said to them, Hearken to Me all of you, and understand: 15 ​​​There is nothing from outside a man which entering into him can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they which defile the man.

Amen

About David Millar

My passion revolves around supporting people to engage with the Lord's Word, or Divine truths in the form of sacred texts, to cultivate an intentional spiritual practice. Through the works penned by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) we find that the Biblical texts contain a deeper meaning that, once understood, enables them to be applied in ways that open the human mind to the realisation of its spiritual potential. The goal of the Divine Life is to free each and every human being from the pain of self centred living and bring them into the experience of all that is heavenly through the promotion of what is genuinely good and true. The material shared here is offered in the pursuit of that aim.
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