Only Following the Rules that Suit

I guess we can all have selective hearing and remembering when it comes to rules.  Some seem so much more important that others.  Some more relevant, some we just don’t like…

Mark 7:1-23

The Teaching of the Ancestors

Some Pharisees and several teachers of the Law of Moses from Jerusalem came and gathered around Jesus. They noticed that some of his disciples ate without first washing their hands.

The Pharisees and many other Jewish people obey the teachings of their ancestors. They always wash their hands in the proper  way before eating. None of them will eat anything they buy in the market until it is washed. They also follow a lot of other teachings, such as washing cups, pitchers, and bowls.

The Pharisees and teachers asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples obey what our ancestors taught us to do? Why do they eat without washing their hands?”

Jesus replied:

You are nothing but show-offs! The prophet Isaiah was right when he wrote that God had said,

“All of you praise me
with your words,
but you never really
think about me.
It is useless for you
to worship me,
when you teach rules
made up by humans.”

You disobey God’s commands in order to obey what humans have taught. You are good at rejecting God’s commands so that you can follow your own teachings! 10 Didn’t Moses command you to respect your father and mother? Didn’t he tell you to put to death all who curse their parents? 11 But you let people get by without helping their parents when they should. You let them say that what they own has been offered to God. 12 You won’t let those people help their parents. 13 And you ignore God’s commands in order to follow your own teaching. You do a lot of other things that are just as bad.

What Really Makes People Unclean

14 Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Pay attention and try to understand what I mean. 15-16 The food that you put into your mouth doesn’t make you unclean and unfit to worship God. The bad words that come out of your mouth are what make you unclean.”

17 After Jesus and his disciples had left the crowd and had gone into the house, they asked him what these sayings meant. 18 He answered, “Don’t you know what I am talking about by now? You surely know that the food you put into your mouth cannot make you unclean. 19 It doesn’t go into your heart, but into your stomach, and then out of your body.” By saying this, Jesus meant that all foods were fit to eat.

20 Then Jesus said:

What comes from your heart is what makes you unclean. 21 Out of your heart come evil thoughts, vulgar deeds, stealing, murder, 22 unfaithfulness in marriage, greed, meanness, deceit, indecency, envy, insults, pride, and foolishness. 23 All of these come from your heart, and they are what make you unfit to worship God.

The Teachers of the Law decide to pick a fight with Jesus about his disciples washing their hands – or not, that becomes about something much bigger.

The teachers of the law always washed their hands before eating, as well as all the utensils they were going to us.  Quite sensible advice, but they were using their advice to control others, and miss the point – again.

So, Jesus turns it around to them

why are you so careful about what you put in your mouth, yet care so little about what comes out?

They were so concerned about the minutiae of the laws, jumping on people if they got the tiniest thing wrong, yet didn’t worry about the bigger picture of their own behaviour.  Not washing your hand or your pot right seemed important to them, yet they didn’t worry so much about the things coming from their own hearts – evil thoughts, vulgar deeds, stealing, murder, unfaithfulness in marriage, greed, meanness, deceit, indecency, envy, insults, pride, and foolishness – they are the things that really upset God.

Like in the James reading – it’s important to be angry about things that are really wrong, to worry about the right kind of thing  – not to try to pull people up on things that don’t matter, or aren’t what worry God.

  • What are the important thing?
  • What rules matter and what are less important?

Forgive me Lord

for the times I get my priorities wrong,

worry about the wrong things,

not the things that trouble you.

May I not focus on small things,

and leave big matters unchallenged.

May my focus be on what pleases you.

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