That which defiles

This is written by Luke Johnson - truthteller, banker, husband & father.

Mark 7:1-23

That which defiles
7 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered round 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 market-place 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 honour 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, "Honour 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.'

17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 'Are you so dull?' he asked. 'Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.' (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

20 He went on: 'What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come - sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.'

Reflection

Christianity is an affair of the heart, not a religion, but what MATTers in this relationship?

When the Pharisees ask why the disciples don't wash their hands the question is really: how do we relate to God? Jesus' answer is not by religion, the idea that "if you fulfil these requirements (wash this way), then you will please God". Jesus sees in the Pharisees' question the fundamental problem with their approach to relating to God through religion. As they climb the religious ladder to God, inspired by people ahead of them, there are always people beneath them on the ladder who they start to feel superior to. The problem with religion is hardly a new one, it's pride.

The Pharisees' intention to take the ceremonial washing of Leviticus 15-18 seriously is valiant (try just reading it start to finish, never mind doing it), but the subtle deception of the human heart allows us to take pride in even the noblest of things. Ever felt proud about how often you pray/read the bible/attend church? Jesus recognises that the heart of the problem is our hearts. Jesus doesn't offer us a moral self-help program, as if we tried hard enough we could do it ourselves. Verses 20-23 make it very clear that much evil comes out of our hearts and so we cannot achieve this. Rather the only way to change the human heart is to replace it. From the inside. That's Jesus' offer - Christianity is an affair of the heart.

The price for my friend buying me a birthday present isn't the face value of the gift, it's their friendship. There is nothing that we have done, are doing or can do to earn or merit what Jesus has done for us, it's a gift. The price is relationship. That's the heart of the MATTer.

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