This is a reworking of my earlier Crossing analysis, done with very helpful feedback from my Pastor….
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
The Tradition of the Elders
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’ For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
DIAGNOSIS – TOO DIRTY FOR GOD
STEP 1 – EXTERNAL PROBLEM – DIRTY COUNTERTOPS
These Pharisees are amazed that a bunch of Jesus-followers could knowingly eat with dirty, filthy hands. The Pharisees are desperate to keep their rules of cleanliness for the sake of God. And so, their minds are blown at seeing those rules willfully ignored. How can these filthy Jesus-followers just spit in the face of God?
And today, it’s still a dirty, dirty world. These days, it feels like so many TV commercials are for cleaning products. Mr. Clean. Tide. Scrubbing Bubbles. And everything seems to have a new anti-bacterial formula. Proctor & Gamble’s profit margin surely shows that cleansers have become our own cleanliness rule. Because, we’re desperate for our kitchen counters to be clean, to show the world that we’re decent people.
STEP 2 – INTERNAL PROBLEM – DIRTY GERMS
For the Pharisees, it’s not just about clean hands. They have endless rules, with the cleaning of cups, pots, and kettles being just a few. Sure, they seek to please and honor God. But, it takes a special kind of obsession to satisfy all those rules. And they keep adding rules until they think they’ve accounted for every possible speck of dirt.
Jesus makes a keen observation about this quest for cleanliness. “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” He might be hinting at the Pharisees’ own neuroses that drive them to add rule on top of rule for a cleanliness that never seems to be enough.
For us, our TV commercials like to shine a microscope on the kitchen counter that we thought was clean. Look! Bacteria! Germ bugs! We think things are clean, but we were wrong. And when we go to the supermarket, we’re overwhelmed by the array of product choices. Countless brands and countless flavors. We’re overwhelmed before we even start.
STEP 3 – ETERNAL PROBLEM – BORN TO DIE
For both the Pharisees and us, our neuroses are just a sign of the sickness that’s killing us. No amount of rules or cleaning products is enough to make us clean. Yet, we still choose and act in vain to eliminate our doubts. In the end, will our choices ever save us from the pain, suffering, and death that scare us to the core? And God’s answer is a resounding “No.”
Jesus tells the Pharisees this. “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” For all their boundless struggle to be clean, their efforts are for naught. If we have abandoned the commandment of God, then what have we got left?
And when Jesus mentions their “teaching human precepts as doctrines”, I’m reminded me of those TV commercials that we thought were enlightening us, but only setting us up for an anxiety attack at the store, paralyzed from making a right choice that probably will be wrong.
The crowd is desperate for an answer from anyone. If they defile themselves, they will be unfit for eternal life, separated from God. How can they ever stop defiling themselves?
PROGNOSIS – CLEAN ENOUGH FOR GOD
STEP 4 – ETERNAL SOLUTION – BORN TO LIVE
Just when everything seems futile, God follows the resounding “No” with a defiant “Yes.” In Mark 8, Jesus reveals that he must suffer, be rejected and killed, and after three days rise again, defying the death we fear. To the Pharisees and us, Jesus tells that those who want to save their life will lose it. And whose who lose their life for Christ’s sake will save it. From God, Christ proclaims an answer for the Pharisees, and for us.
STEP 5 – INTERNAL SOLUTION – LIVING WITH THE GERMS (BIODIVERSITY)
And so, the disciples give us a glimpse of life lived with trust in God’s “Yes” as they dine with filthy paws. “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile.” No fear. No sickness. Just a filling meal.
To the Pharisees and us, Jesus tells that those who want to save their life, through cleanliness rules or kitchen cleansers, will lose it. And whose who lose their life for my sake, no longer playing that neurosis game because they trust in what God has done through Christ, will save it. Jesus tells us that we don’t have to play the game. We do not have to worry whether our purity, our cleanliness, is enough to keep us from the love of God. Our mind games that we play with ourselves are completely unnecessary.
In the movie WarGames, a couple precocious kids send the world to the brink of armageddon by playing an innocent game of chess against a war machine. The moral of the story was that the only way to win is to not play the “game” at all. There is no winner. Everybody loses. They stop playing the game, and they live.
And so we live, in spite of it all, with the love of God.
STEP 6 – EXTERNAL SOLUTION – COUNTERTOPS CLEAN ENOUGH
Living in the light of God’s love, we are not afraid to invite others over for dinner because our counters are not clean enough. And our honest, heartfelt invitation encourages our guests to dine with us. The world that looked like a cesspool is transformed into a communal lovefeast, clean enough for God, for our guests, and for us.