Jesus 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.’
When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, ‘Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 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.’
Jesus said: It is what comes out of a person that defiles.
In 1942, following the success of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, ‘Pinocchio’, ‘Fantasia’ and ‘Dumbo’, Walt Disney released his fifth feature-length movie: ‘Bambi’. In that film there is a character called Thumper. Thumper is a rabbit who described the young Bambi as being ‘kinda wobbly’. When he voices this observation, his mother scolds him and makes him repeat the maxim that had been impressed upon him by his father only that morning: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all. This teaching is now referred to as: the ‘Thumperian principle’, or ‘Thumper’s rule’, or ‘Thumper’s law’. However you choose to think about it, and despite it’s rather convoluted use of the English language, it is a principle that sums up Jesus’ teaching in today’s reading: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.
Too often we revel in the negative. We hang on the gossip and conjecture that puts others in a poor light. Even when there is no evidence to support the negativity that is being expressed, we listen and then we repeat and magnify all that we have heard. It is true that no such tale ever diminishes as it is retold!
In our modern age we have easy access to the news media, an industry and profession that seems to be predicated on peddling the negative. The media in all its forms seems to specialise in fuelling our love of gossip and conjecture. Where there is no evidence, hints are dropped. Where wrongdoing is uncovered, it is always portrayed as being deliberate and wicked, never allowing room for human error and misunderstanding. The actions of all who fall under the spotlight of media scrutiny are seen as being evil.
Of course, the actions cited by Jesus are evil and do distance us from God. But, so does our propensity to gossip and misrepresent. Jesus’ catalogue of evil intentions are not arranged in any sort of hierarchical order, they are all just as bad as each other! So, our capacity for deceit, envy, slander and pride are just as bad as the capacity of others for fornication, theft, murder and adultery. Every single one of those evil intentions damages us and others. Every single one of those evil intentions diminishes our lives and the lives of our ‘victims’. Every single one of those evil intentions adds to the barrier we create between ourselves and God.
Let us pray that we might remember Jesus’ teaching in the words of Thumper: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all. Let us pray that as we revel in the infamy and misfortune of others we might remember that the damage we are doing is as much to ourselves as to those we criticise and vilify. Let us pray that we might stand firm in Christ’s call to love our neighbours … and our enemies.
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