Read: Mark 7:1-23
The Pharisees and some teachers of the law…again. This time, the approach is simple, pick a rule that surely everyone knows: you must wash ceremonially before eating!
Most of the words in this passage are in red letters in my Bible, the words of Jesus. Mark explains the idea of washing before eating in verses 1-4, then quotes the Pharisees:
“Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” Mark 7:5
Jesus sees this as a great teaching moment. He explains rather bluntly that they have elevated their customs above the law that they pretend to uphold. In this case, ceremonial washing, but in other cases, they’ve made rules to allow them to disobey God’s commands. To be clear, this is much more than merely not washing hands before dinner, this is an attitude of the heart, of a contrite and bitter heart.
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” Mark 7:14-15
The funny thing is that the disciples didn’t understand, they had to ask for clarification. I’m sure glad they did, because I’m not sure it was quite clear to me either. “Are you so dull,” Jesus continues, it’s not the food that defiles you at all. No more rules about clean and unclean food. Mind blown!
How many traditions have we invented that we hold onto so tightly? There are some who firmly believe that only ordained clergy can administer communion or baptize new believers. Only staff can decide what’s best for the holier than Moses defined hour of worship on Sunday. The Pharisees had 600+ rules. I suspect we have more, but we’re better at hiding them so as not to be accused of being a Pharisee. Clever us.
We know these rules are not of God. We created these rules out of a desire to elevate some above others, to put clergy on a pedestal, elders above deacons, deacons above congregants, congregants above outsiders. We’ve created a hierarchy that has is so inwardly focused that we’ve lost touch with the outside world–the world Christ came to save.
This type of arrogance has crept into the modern church club mentality where only certain people get an invitation to meetings and discussions that affect the body of believers. Over time, this has become the norm. Add a decade or two and we see the church in great decline, no longer a key part of society.
Our selfish desires for recognition have undermined God’s desire for creating an effective church, a body of believers that are filled with the Holy Spirit and on mission to change the world. I truly believe that unless we become the church Jesus intended, we are just ceremoniously washing our hands.
If we know the rules, we can play the game fairly. When the rules are so simple, like love God, your neighbor and yourself, it’s not so easy. “Did God really say…” (Genesis 3:1), words from the great tempter reappear.
Jesus isn’t done yet,
He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23
It’s inexcusable to blame someone else for the sin that comes from my actions, my thoughts, the impurities in my heart. The “devil made me do it” is simply not true. Satan may have put the thought in my mind, but it was my choice to cultivate the thought rather than just have the Holy Spirit destroy the weeds!
That which defiles reminds us of the seriousness of our ministry. The list that Mark provides, quoting Jesus, is rather shocking. For a culture that seems to hang pride up as a banner, to talk openly about sexual immorality, adultery, lewdness, etc., was unheard of…literally. These are just things we don’t talk about. But this is our savior, Jesus. He is not bound by our perception of rules and regulations, he only cares about the heart and soul.
It’s so easy to criticize the church for its shortcomings and while awareness is important, action is imperative! My earnest desire is to do more and rant less, but sometimes, I just have to let it out!
Lord, help us to ignore the prompts of the great tempter, the one who has a finite lifespan. Help us to focus on you and you alone.