“Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? (Mark 7:18)
Read: Leviticus 15:1 – 16:28, Mark 7:1-23, Psalm 40:11-17, Proverbs 10:13-14
Relate: Spring is here. Maybe not for you Yankees but those in the South and here in Antep it’s about that time of the year when the snow disappears for good (if it ever came) and it is time to open up those windows and let all the stale air out. It also means we will soon be beginning Lent. Back in the States, being low church protestant, I didn’t really think about that much. However, I did observe it more this past school year and it became a great opener for conversations with Muslim neighbors and coworkers about God. When Muslims would compare it to their Ramadan they were always focused on the food. It’s Lent, why are you drinking tea? Why are eating bread and soup, aren’t you supposed to be fasting? (I did a form of ‘Daniel Fast’ for the season. Although I hate the term I use it here for brevity’s sake)
Most often back in America the questions I would get from those looking at me as a religious authority also had to do with food. Sorta. Really, they were asking more along the lines of, “What can I get away with?” I would hear things like: “What am I allowed to eat? Fish is OK. What about chicken? My mom always said we were supposed to give up chocolate. Is there really a rule about that? Is it just chocolate or should we be giving up all desserts?” Maybe you don’t come from a culture with such a large number of former, or nominal catholics as can be found in NY. Maybe for your area Lent isn’t such a big deal. Maybe those outside your church community don’t realize you’re a Christian so the question doesn’t come up, or maybe you don’t have all that many friends outside of your church community. In both of those latter cases there are some more serious issues that need to be dealt with.
When I was in high school I made it a point to get my hands on a huge number of Slim Jims to store in my locker. Then, from Ash Wednesday until after Easter you could always find me with one of those disgusting things sticking out of my mouth. It definitely wasn’t the most effective form of evangelism and I’m sure it caused far more resentment and confusion than it did a change of hearts and minds, but the principle was sound. My favorite verse to quote when confronted about this was Hebrews 13:9 “Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them.”
React: I celebrate Lent. I didn’t growing up. I participate in a theological culture and tradition which doesn’t. Still, in a few days once again I will celebrate Lent. It isn’t about the food. It isn’t about the rules and regulations. Those truly are of no value to those who follow them. The value comes in the surrender. The value comes in setting aside the time and things we are comfortable with that we might draw closer to Jesus. The value comes when we take this season to try and root out some of the truly evil things within our hearts: the “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness” Jesus mentions just a sentence or to further down. The freedom of exercising my “right” to eat those slim jims wasn’t feeding anything except my own pride and foolishness. Not eating them because I am not supposed to doesn’t benefit me in any way. Not eating them when I have every right to them… now we’re getting somewhere. Lent isn’t about the rules. It is about the surrender. Funny thing, the Arabic word for surrender: “استسلام” We would pronounce that: “ast’Islam”
Help me to better understand that serving You isn’t about rules. Following You isn’t about what I can or cannot eat. It isn’t even about what I can and cannot do. Abstaining from those things do not make me holy and partaking in them does not defile me. It is only Your grace that makes me clean. It is only Your sacrifice that sanctifies me. Help me to participate in sacrifice as an act of love. Help me to walk the road of surrender with You so that those things which do defile me, those thoughts of greed and selfishness and pride and the like would find no home in my heart. It belongs totally to You.