Mark 7: 1-8
Imagine how difficult it would be if we had to live under all the rules found in Leviticus:
-only eat meat of pure animals –must chew cud-no pork, no camels
It is interesting to note that:
-farmers allowed to plant only one type of seed in a field that would eliminate all our mixed hay, row planting with different crops like corn and soybean was disallowed..
-if a farmer didn’t give 1/10 of his wheat crop, to the temple, his wheat was deemed impure and being impure wheat it could not be purchased by those obeying the purity rules. It was like a boycott, pay the tithe or be stuck with your crop.
If we look at clothing we find that:
- Each article of clothing must be made with one material. All wool-all-all cotton, no blends like 60% cotton-40% polyester.
- If the Pharisees came here this morning and checked the labels on everything I’m wearing and insure no blends.
- I’d probably have to strip down and preach to you in my birthday suit----
and don’t laugh you may find yourselves in the same boat.---- It would be the first Presbyterian Nudist Service in the valley.
Just visualize living in a social system organized around contrasts pure and impure-clean and unclean people.
--Men were more pure than women.--Rich were more pure than poor.
--Jews were more pure than gentiles (everyone who was not Jewish)
--Religious leaders were purer than everyone.
In effect the Purity System created a world of sharp social boundaries and hopefully you were born on the right side of the track.
There were things such as getting sick, any type of skin condition made you untouchable and anyone who touched you was rendered unclean. There were hundreds of rules as to what you could and couldn’t do to keep pure.
In today’s Scripture the Pharisees and priests have come down from Jerusalem, a 60 mile journey. They were searching out those who were breaking the Purity laws and, interestingly, they are spying on Jesus and watching the disciples. The disciples are eating lunch--Too tired and too hungry to care that their hands and faces were dirty; they immediately sat down to eat without washing.
They were eating with dirty hands. At least, that is what the Pharisees believed. Fishermen do not always observe all the niceties that refined folks observe. But it disturbed the Pharisees. It glared out at them like someone picking their teeth in a fine restaurant.
But the practice of washing was not done for reasons of health; as we know germs were not identified as causing disease until the 1840’s by Louis Pasteur, and even then, he had a hard time getting doctors to wash their hands before operating.
In Mark’s day, it was done as a religious ritual.
The Pharisees cease upon this ceremonial oversight and question Jesus: Why don’t your disciples live according to the traditions of the elders and clean their hands before they eat? This is all that Jesus needs to hear. He sticks up for his disciples, turns on these teachers and says in essence, “Why don’t you live according to the traditions of God and clean your hearts?”
Jesus seizes this opportunity to condemn the entire Purity System based on what was clean or unclean and who was pure or impure that has dominated the lives of the people.
I have to tell you that Jesus was a little harsh with these keepers of the status quo. He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, ….as it is written, You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."
Wouldn't you agree this was harsh? But put yourself in Jesus' place. He was trying to help people see God in a new way. So naturally the people who hindered him the most were those who could only see God in the old way, the old tradition.
Doubtless Jesus has the same difficulty today. CHRIST WILL
FOREVER BE AN UP-SETTER OF THE STATUS QUO because Christ is always calling us to higher ground.
Christ is always doing a new thing in our lives because he is continually helping us see new realities.
Don’t get me wrong the Pharisees were some of the best people in the community who were simply bound to the old traditions.
Tradition has its positive; it has helped our Jewish friends maintain their identity over thousands of years of history.
It also has its miss-uses. We must be careful about worshiping tradition. It's fine to maintain continuity with the past--as long as keeping traditions does not hinder us from being compassionate.
I ONCE READ A STORY AND I SURE SOME OF YOU might HAVE HEARD IT BEFORE… about a group of soldiers in France during World War II who had become separated from their platoon during a fierce battle to retake a village, in the process one of their fellow soldiers was killed. The small motley group of men carried their dead comrade to the nearby village church. They asked the Pastor permission to allow their friend to be buried in the church cemetery. The pastor asked if their dead friend had been baptized. They said that they did not know.
"Well then," explained the pastor, "if you do not know if your friend was BAPTIZED, CHURCH LAWS do not permit you to bury your dead friend in this cemetery."
Saddened by this news, the men carried the body to the edge of the cemetery and buried it on the other side of the fence.
The next morning the small rag-tag army walked over to the church cemetery to check the grave of their friend to make sure it hadn't been disturbed. To their amazement, they could not find the fresh grave. Just as they were about to give up in utter frustration the pastor approached them and said, "You will not find the grave where you are looking for it. Yesterday, I felt really guilty after telling you that you could not bury your friend here in the cemetery. So I woke up very early this morning and MOVED THE FENCE so that your comrade is now included in the church cemetery."
What is this story telling us? It gives us the same message Jesus is telling us it’s GOOD TO HAVE SOME RULES but we must apply them with the LOVE AND COMPASSION.
Perhaps our situation today makes it especially easy for us to identify with the divisions happening in Mark’s day.
Today we have the Religious Right in North America broadcasting over T.V. and radio and dictating what we must believe if we are Christians.
Our opinion on different issues are being used by these groups to determine whether or not we are real Christians. -- if you don’t think my way you’re not a true Christian!”
A questions for us today, “Are Christians not free to have different views or opinions?”
As Christians we have to address many complex issues such as abortion,-- contraception--, homosexuality-privacy rights—Qc. Charter of values and war; and these should not become “Lines drawn in the sand” wrongly judging whether one is a Christian or not.
And “How does one maintain Christian identity and integrity,--in a religiously diverse culture? ”
Jesus answer is; “beware when religious observance gets in the way of fulfilling the HEART OF THE LAW, which is LOVE GOD AND NEIGHBOUR.”
AS I was thinking about Jesus’ answer a song kept buzzing in my hear We’ve all heard the song--it’s an oldie! “YOU GOTTA HAVE HEART…”
This is the message Jesus was trying to get across to the crowds and to us,. “YOU GOTTA HAVE HEART.”
The world is changing at such speed we must remember to respect the ways of the past but face the news challenges with “LOTS AND LOTS OF HEART.”
--Which would you prefer for a good friend: a friend of excellent habits, or a friend with a good heart?
---Which would you prefer for a partner: a partner of excellent habits, or a partner with a good heart?
There’s story about Queen Victoria who was at a diplomatic reception in London. The guest of honor was an African chieftain. All went well during the meal, until, at the end, finger bowls were served. The guest of honor had never seen a British finger bowl, and no one had thought to brief him before hand about its purpose. So he took the finger bowl in his two hands, lifted it to his mouth, and drank its contents--down to the very last drop!
For an instant there was breathless silence among the British upper crust and then they began to whisper to one another. All that stopped in the next instant as the Queen, Victoria, silently took her finger bowl in her two hands, lifted it, and drank its contents! A moment later 500 surprised British ladies and gentlemen simultaneously drank the contents of their own fingerbowls.
It was "against the rules" to drink from a fingerbowl, but on that particular evening Victoria changed the rules---because she was, after all, the Queen and acted with compassion from her heart!