The Gospel of Mark: a commentary & meditation 
"You have a fine way of rejecting the commandments of God"


Scripture:  Mark 7:1-13

1 Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands  defiled?" 6 And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, `This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' 8 You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men." 9 And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, `Honor your father and your mother'; and, `He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die'; 11 but you say, `If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban' (that is, given to God) 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do."

Meditation: What makes a person unclean or unfit to offer God acceptable worship?  The Jews went to great pains to ensure that their worship would conform to the instructions which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. God's call to his people was a call to holiness: "be holy, for I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44; 19:2).  In their zeal for holiness many elders developed elaborate traditions which became a burden for the people to carry out in their everyday lives. The Scribes and Pharisees were upset with Jesus because he allowed his disciples to break with their ritual traditions by eating with unclean hands.  They sent a delegation all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee to bring their accusation in a face-to-face confrontation with Jesus. Jesus dealt with their accusation by going to the heart of the matter -- by looking at God's intention and purpose for the commandments. Jesus gave an example of how their use of ritual tradition excused them from fulfilling the commandment to honor one's father and mother.  If someone wanted to avoid the duty of financially providing for their parents in old age or sickness they could say that their money or goods were an offering "given over to God" and thus exempt from any claim of charity or duty to help others. They broke God's law to fulfull a law of their own making. Jesus explained that they void God's command because they allowed their hearts and minds to be clouded by their own notions of religion.

Jesus accused them specifically of two things. First of hypocrisy. Like actors, who put on a show, they appear to obey God's word in their external practices while they inwardly harbor evil desires and intentions. Secondly, he accused them of abandoning God's word by substituting their own arguments and ingenious interpretations for what God requires. They listened to clever arguments rather than to God's word. Jesus refers them to the prophecy of Isaiah (29:31) where the prophet accuses the people of his day for honoring God with their lips while their hearts went astray because of disobedience to God's laws.

God in his mercy freely offers us pardon, healing, and grace for overcoming sin and evil in our lives. But to receive God's mercy and help, we must admit our faults and ask for God's pardon. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9). Only God can change our hearts and make them clean and whole through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Like a physician who probes the wound before treating it, God through his Word and Spirit first brings our sinful intentions and deeds into the light of our conscience that we may recognize them for what they are and call upon his mercy and grace for pardon and healing.  Ask the Lord to cleanse you with the purifying fire of his Holy Spirit.

"Lord, let me dwell in your presence and fill me with the knowledge of your truth and goodness. Instruct my heart that I may walk in your way of love and holiness."


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 (c) 2000-2007 Don Schwager