Our reading this week comes from Mark 6:14 through the end of chapter 7. I want to focus on one passage specifically from chapter 7.
Mark gives us a little background on how the Pharisees had created traditions and laws that God did not, and gives us an example of how they tried to bind these traditions on others (similar to what we talked about in our sermon Sunday.) The particular tradition in question here had to do with ceremonial hand washing. We know from history that Pharisees often monitored the washing jars (these are the same that Jesus used to change water to wine in John 4), and would threaten and punish anyone who didn’t observe this tradition.
Notice the question that they ask in verse 5:
“Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” Mark 7:5
Notice this has nothing to do with honoring God, but the tradition of the elders. Jesus condemns their actions, and addresses the problem with their hearts by quoting Isaiah. He summarizes this by saying
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Mark 7:8
Do we ever put our traditions over God’s commands? There is nothing wrong with a tradition until we start holding that tradition just as sacred as the words of God. I have seen some Christians come unhinged at the very idea of altering anything we do. You wouldn’t believe the outrage I received years ago when suggesting we move the Lord’s Supper to a different time in the service! And when the silver colored communion trays were replaced with gold colored ones? Yes…we’re often guilty of this as well.
The Pharisees were refusing to help their own families, specifically their fathers and mothers, by dedicating something their families need to God. Follow this scenario with me. You wake up tomorrow and find someone starving to death in your yard. He begs you for some food, but you decide you can’t buy him a breakfast because you might give that money to God someday. This is basically what the Pharisees were doing, and teaching others to do…even when those in need were their own parents.
But Jesus works to address their misinterpretation of the Scriptures. He tells them that people aren’t defiled by what they eat, which is a huge departure from Jewish practice. This is such a departure from the norm that Mark includes a parenthetical clarification:
“(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)” – Mark 7:19
Instead, Jesus clarifies that what comes out of someone makes them unclean…their actions, their words, their thoughts. To summarize the teaching of Jesus here: Don’t focus on the external, but the internal. Get your heart right, then the external will correct itself.
Seek God, and work to get your heart inline with what God truly calls us to.