Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23: 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.”
So, once again, what seems to be a very straight forward teaching of Jesus turns out to be a rather complicated collection of thoughts and ideas and to compare Mark’s version to Matthew and Luke, well it creates some questions.
So what it appears we have is another attempt by the Pharisees and other leaders to protect their position of power and prestige in Judaism from the upstart Jesus and He stops them in the tracks of their diatribe. Let’s investigate
The first thing you need to take note of is that this is Mark 7:1-8, 14, 15 and 21-23. So why leave out verses 9-13 and 16-20. Especially verse 16! How could they possibly leave out verse 16. So we will see who are the inquisitive among you by who comes to me when they have figured out the reference to verse 16.
Well, if you include the missing verses, you get a different look to the story. Verses 9-13 have Jesus providing a concrete and somewhat awkward example of how leadership was purporting to follow a law, which is in effect allowing them to abandon responsibility to their parents to maintain their fortune. Verse 16 – well that one is yours. 17-21provides a rather astonishing claim for Jesus. That all food is clean. Matthew and Luke both ignored this. In Christian tradition, the declaration that foods previously forbidden were okay for followers of The Way comes in a vision seen by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles.
While I’m talking about differences and interesting nuances, it is worth noting that Matthew lists 7 things that come from the heart that produce evil intentions; while Mark in our reading this morning lists 13.
So, I want to touch on that list. When you heard it, did you prioritize? Fornication, adultery, licentiousness, avarice. Those are the bad ones. Envy, slander, pride, folly. Well those aren’t so bad. While I understand how we do that and I think there is every possibility Jesus did this intentionally, I’m not sure we get to judge. These things are grouped together to represent the evil intentions that come from the heart and to put more weight on one or another seems to me to drift past what Jesus wanted to say – that we need to strive to reject all of these.
In the example Jesus used that we didn’t read, it was clear that money and power was more important that parents. In the start of our story rules and regulations around washing hands and food are made rigid as a means of controlling, as a way to gain power and influence and authority and to use it for you own advantage. Do you see a trend?
Let me use a contemporary example that probably isn’t a perfect match, but I think shows the same understanding. I’m quite certain that the opiate crisis is concerning to us all. As we hear day after day stories of lives ending in tragic overdose in alarming numbers, we want to find ways to stop or control this epidemic. I am quite certain that the illicit drug trade would not be even a small percentage of the problem it is today if, at its core, were not a significant group of people who make millions and possibly billions of dollars from this scourge that is claiming thousands of lives. And I am willing to bet that in churches around the world this morning many of those who benefit greatly and live lavish life styles by producing and selling illegal drugs are sitting in the pews, participating in worship, placing the proceeds of crime on the offertory plate. In another strain, there is considerable evidence that the pharmaceutical industry has not always been forthcoming about the addictive nature of drugs that are manufactured, or the knowledge that there was the potential for misuse and abuse. You may have heard that this week the BC government has launched a law suit against drug companies to reclaim the costs to society of dealing with the impact of overdoses in the cost of health care. This law suit is based on similar suits brought again tobacco companies that have for the most part been stymied by appeals and legal manipulation for now decades.
Now ask yourself, how is all that different than each of us sitting down to eat our fill tonight while thousands of God’s creations in this world will go hungry?
It is easy to shout vociferously about the first group, just like making a bigger deal out of adultery and licentiousness; but when we come to talk about our folly, or slander or envy, we are much quieter.
Jesus message here, as it is almost always, is that every human being matters. If the Elders in this story could leave their parents in poverty to gain more wealth and influence for themselves; if drug lords and CEO’s can look the other way while young people die due to overdose; if you and I can ignore the fact that while we are full, many have nothing – then the Kingdom of heaven is not here.
I’ve purposely made this black and white for impact – while we all know that life in fact is thousands of shades of gray. But it seems to me impossible for us not to see more and more human beings are allowing the traits of evil that Jesus points to – spew from their hearts for their own advantage. When do we say no more? When do we change the only heart that we can change – our own? Philosophical questions no doubt – but they are more and more becoming based in reality.
Rev. Keith Nethery