Today’s Bible study covered Mark 7:1-23. I look forward to getting with my friend to study on a weekly basis. We have translated Philippians and the Sermon on the Mount, and are currently working our way through the gospel of Mark. Her background is Greek language studies, not Koine Greek. I have studied Koine and as a pastor come at study from a more exegetical framework. This difference has meshed amazingly well and led to some rich discussions. Often we come away with more questions than answers, but we’re both getting better at being okay with that.
So we decided that in this passage Jesus was pretty ticked off with the Pharisees. He probably did his fair share of finger wagging. This definitely wasn’t a “writing in the sand” moment. He spoke harshly and with oozing sarcasm when addressing their annulling/voiding the word of God in favor of their own traditions. We found ourselves speaking as passionately as Jesus as we discussed our translations.
We noticed in verse 18, Jesus again refers to the dullness of the disciples (see also Mk. 6:52). For the longest time I just thought that the disciples were just not getting the God side of Jesus as the God-Man. His miracles and authoritative preaching seemed to mystify them. What I began to see as a result of studying this passage is some of the reasons why they were so hopelessly confused. Jesus challenged everything they believed.
This passage focuses on the encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees and Scribes related to cleanliness and uncleanliness. At first glance it may seem that the main issue was that of hygienic versus ceremonial cleanliness, but digging deeper reveals so much more. The traditions of the elders were so restrictive regarding purity issues that it would have been very difficult to consider eating socially on a casual basis. Everything Jesus did flew in the face of this.
As I considered this I saw in a new why some of the ones invited to the King’s banquet might have been reluctant to accept that invitation (see Matt. 22:1-14). I understand that thinking flies in the face of traditional interpretation, but when I consider the extremes of the purity traditions, it just began to make more sense to me. So with that mindset, I start to understand how Jesus just was an enormous irritation. They had worked all their lives to uphold these traditions and Jesus threw it back in their faces when he chose to dine with all manner of unclean and unacceptable kinds of people. And both sides were adamant in their stance and irritation with other on this.
I think this also explains the confusion for the disciples. If in fact they were looking for a Messiah who would rid them of theiroppression, they thought he would be attacking the Romans not their own religious leaders. Instead Jesus was telling them to keep on paying the taxes, while they needed to throw off the traditions of the elders which had invalidated God’s word. The Kingdom that was at hand was the Kingdom of God and it flew in the face of everything they were basing their lives and hope upon.
This matter of eating and ceremonial cleanliness cut across the fabric of their faith and practice. They didn’t get it while Jesus was with them. No, the problem continues to be addressed in the developing church: see Peter’s encounters in Acts 10 and Paul’s many words about food being a stumbling block.
So I’m wondering if we get it yet? I don’t think so. I’ve been a part of several different denominational groups, each holding to its own set of traditions. I’ll never forget the scolding I received for using the wrong communion cloth on the altar early on in ministry, or the time I questioned the point of the Hanging of the Greens at Christmas. The effectiveness of my ministry in one church was severely hampered because I moved the pews in the sanctuary by angling them by a mere few inches so the congregation would focus their attention on the cross instead of staring blanking straight ahead. More than one time I was told that “we always do it that way” and it was therefore assumed it would be done that way until Jesus comes–and maybe even on into heaven.
Please don’t hear me saying that traditions are bad. I can’t because I don’t believe that Jesus held that position. What frustrated and even angered Jesus was when the traditions superseded God’s intentions and hindered the people’s ability to move more deeply into relationship with God. Take the Sabbath, for example. Jesus stated that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. God’s intention was that Sabbath should be seen and experienced as gift not a hardship. It should be something that improves one’s relationship with God, not something that becomes the scorecard for adherence and practice.
I believe that one of the most meaningful passages of scripture is found in Revelation 3:19: Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you (The Message). Jesus was willing to break bread with Simon the Pharisee, Zaccheus, Matthew, and at least 5000 on a hillside, where I’m pretty sure there wasn’t’ near enough water to satisfy the traditional rituals for cleanliness. He didn’t let it stop him then, and I don’t think he would today.