Jesus tells us, via the Gospels of Matthew (15) and Mark (7), that what defiles us as humans is not what goes into our mouths as physical food, what is then digested for nourishment, and what finally comes out of our bodies as waste.
No, what defiles us as human beings, according to Jesus, is what enters our mouths as words, digested then in our hearts (or souls), and – depending on what humans manage to make of that digestion – exits by way of the mouth again so that good or evil results.
Defilement has to do with the results of our humanly directed digestion that causes not nourishment but debilitation.
Using such a biblical measure for human activity, one would think the track record of a human individual or a human institution should lead to a determination of whether trustworthiness should be granted.
To draw on the type of human actions that Jesus uses to explain defilement, why would any human individual be seen worthy of trust if there were a track record of murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness or slander?
Wouldn’t the same apply to human institutions – individual corporate bodies as well as individual personal bodies?
Take, for example, the rating agency of Standard & Poor’s.
Here’s a human institution that takes in massive amounts of economic data, digests that data and then releases its products so that it can be consumed by all sorts of humans and human institutions.
The question would be whether the products of its digestion of economic data have proven to be economically nourishing or debilitating for individuals, institutions, organizations and governments.
Are its products cleansing and health-producing or contaminating and defiling?
Standard & Poor’s was one of the key rating agencies that gave mortgage companies the highest possible ratings right into 2008 – prior, that is, to the mortgage disaster that was a major factor in the national and worldwide economic collapse, causing enormous and continuing human suffering.
It was Standard & Poor’s that provided Lehman Brothers an A-rating right up to the time of its going completely out of existence and thereby setting in motion global economic fright that has led, ever since, to a devastatingly slow recovery.
And in recent days, as it was preparing to downgrade U.S. national debt from its longstanding Triple A rating, Standards & Poor’s was found to have made a $2 trillion (yes, with a “T”) miscalculation, but refused to modify its assessment anyway, leading to upheaval in global financial markets.
Shouldn’t that kind of ongoing track record qualify as defilement? Shouldn’t that kind of track record lead to some sense of untrustworthiness?
And yet, despite other rating agencies refusing to take the same path as Standard & Poor’s, investors across the world ate up, digested and excreted the dish that S&P served up.
It makes one wonder what would happen if God’s Word proved to be so untrustworthy.
Then, I assure you, we would all be in deep … trouble.
LarryGreenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.