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Be Care-Full with what you Share

March 27, 2019 | Timothy Peace

MARK 7:1-15 NIV

7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’

8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

At the beginning of Mark 7, Jesus converses with the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law about why Jesus’ disciples are eating food without having first washed their hands. The discussion is intriguing. The Pharisees are probably local to the Galilean region in which Jesus is operating, and the Teachers of the Law are likely sent as a delegate from Jerusalem to accompany the Pharisees and to scope out what is going on with Jesus.

Mark gives us a very generalized explanation for why Jesus’ disciples are being questioned about having not washed their hands. While it’s wise to wash one’s hands before eating, the idea that the washing of hands is tethered to ritual purity is something that comes, largely, from extra-biblical, rabbinic literature and it was a practice that was likely only don’t by this group of religious leaders. So therein lies the point: Jesus is supposed to be a rabbi like the Pharisees, and He is supposed to train disciples as they do, and, yet, his disciples do not act like the Pharisees' disciples, which means Jesus is not teaching them as the Pharisees would.

Jesus responds, first, by chastising them from the words of Isaiah, declaring that they honor God with their words, but their hearts are missing in action. Then, Jesus shifts his argument against them and brings up the issue of the discrepancy between the teaching of the decalogue, which says to “Honor your mother and your father,” and the traditions they demand to be kept that command people not to use money devoted to God to help one’s mother and father. If you’re not grasping the contradiction, here it is: one cannot refuse to help their mother and father and still honor them. Moreover, one cannot earmark money to God which is meant to honor their mother and father because in doing so they fail to keep God’s commands.

Jesus concludes by calling the crowd around them and informing them that it is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean, but what comes out of the mouth, originating from the heart (harkening back to the Isaiah quote), that makes a person unclean. Jesus has twisted the religious leaders’ complaints about his disciples in knots. He first destroys the notion that their traditions are on par with God’s commandments in Scripture and then He goes a step further to show that their traditions miss the heart of the matter entirely altogether.

It is this story that shows the greater tension between not only Jesus and the religious leaders but between Jesus and His disciples in Mark. The pressure is built because Jesus calls people to set their hearts on and toward the things of God and not on those of human beings. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because that’s what Jesus chastises Peter for in Mark 8:33 (after He equates Peter with Satan). Through this lens, I’d encourage you to analyze all of the people around Jesus in the stories of the Gospel of Mark. When you read through this lens, you’ll see the pattern of the faithful to whom Jesus responds faithfully, and you’ll catch the failures of the ones to whom Jesus rebukes. Be a favorable one to Jesus and keep your heart set on the things of God!