Title: Where is the Evidence of Our Faith
Scripture: Mark 7:1-8, 14-23
How many people here today know a Pharisee? Raise your hands
Dont point, just raise your hand
We know there arent any Pharisees here anyway
But before we say that for sure, maybe we should figure out exactly what a Pharisee is
The Pharisees werent bad people
in fact, if scholars were to attempt to place Jesus and his teaching within one of the streams of Jewish tradition of the day, he had the most in common with the Pharisees.
The Apostle Paul, once called Saul, was a Pharisee of a particular stripe and he says he studied under one of the most famous Pharisaic Rabbis of the day, Gamaliel.
Probably the same Gamaliel who convinced his fellow members of the council in Acts to spare the lives of the Apostles, saying: So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!
So a Pharisee is someone who is deeply committed
but their commitments dont prevent them from making poor judgements, or from being overzealous about the wrong things.
I know none of us have ever been overzealous about the wrong thing
But think of Paul, who as Saul was one of the greatest enemies of the new faith, who in his zeal for the Law, became an oppressor of the early church.
Or think about the Pharisees from our gospel reading today
those religious folks who just couldnt see the forest for the trees. You might even think of them as a bunch of religious bureaucrats: theres a certain way things are done and thats just the way it has to be…
Mark is very helpful here and explains the context of this meeting. Some of the Pharisees and some Scribes from Jerusalem have come out to hear what Jesus has to say, and while theyre there, they notice that the disciples are eating with unwashed hands
now the Pharisees believed (along with moms and nurses and especially moms who are nurses) that it was a sin to eat without washing your hands.
But to the Pharisees, it wasnt just a bad thing to do, it defiled you, it made you and what you ate ritually unclean, and you would be expected to perform some sort of purification rite to get back in the good graces of God and your neighbor.
So the Pharisees and Scribes ask Jesus, Why do your disciples not live by the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands? They were probably surprised, maybe even offended by the fact that the disciples hadnt washed their hands, and while they could have been trying to highlight Jesus lack of adherence to the tradition, they may just as well have expected him to correct his disciples for what they did.
After all, this was a holy man, a teacher
surely he would observe the traditions of the elders
But Jesus doesnt answer the question they ask, instead he explains a principle, taking the opportunity to challenge them on their acceptance of human commandments in the place of Gods commandments and then giving them his definition of defilement.
I joke with Anna sometimes that her standard stance toward tradition is a why, while mine, dusty history buff that I am, is often a why not. I think a lot of us fall into those categories
but not Jesus.
For Jesus the question about tradition isnt why or why not, it isnt even a question we Anglicans sometimes here from other protestant churchesis it biblical? as in explicitly commanded by scripture.
No, for Jesus the question seems to be whether or not the point of the tradition has been lost
but not only lostperverted.
And Jesus certainly ran into enough perversion of tradition in his day.
People putting up barriers between others and God
Its called legalism. Sometimes we might say somebody is nit-picky, but what we mean is that for all their desire to do good, to do the right or correct thing, theyve become narrow-minded and focused on small things
unable to see the big picture or understand why something was ever done in the first place. Legalism in religion can be a deadly thing.
And Jesus was dealing with legalists all the timepeople who kept the letter of the law while neglecting its spiritthose who kept the rule even when it prevented them from doing the very thing the rule was meant to ensure.
There are many examples of this in Jesus ministry, in the parables that he told. One that sticks with me is in the parable of the Good Samaritan
sometimes people miss it, because they focus on who it was who finally helped the man who had been beaten and left for dead in that parable, i.e. the Samaritan. But at least as important are the people who passed him by. One of them was a Priest who not only passed the man by, he crossed to the other side of the street to avoid him.
The fact that he did this shows that he was probably a legalist. He didnt know whether the man was alive or dead, so rather than risk ritually defiling himself, he passed the injured man by.
Similarly, Jesus contends with some of the religious leaders who would condemn him for healing on the Sabbath, since Jews werent supposed to do any labor on the Sabbath.
They missed the point you see
they forgot why they were ever given commandments, and they forgot the greatest commandment and the second: To Love God and to love neighbor.
So Jesus reminds them that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
In other words, religious commandments and traditions are there for a purpose
to help people in some way, whether in their personal lives or in their relationship with God.
If the evidence of faith were simply to keep the letter of the law, then the Pharisees, and the priest in the story of the Good Samaritan would have been perfect examples of faithful people.
But we can see that they are flawed
they forgot the reason why they were doing what they were doing
in following the letter of the law they were neglecting more important commandments.
People like this are sometimes the most frustrating to deal with because they are usually the hardest people to explain something to. No wonder Jesus gets aggravated at the Pharisees
no wonder he calls them hypocrites and challenges them. He has to do that to get their attention, to make them wake up.
Jesus is dealing with a bunch of religious bureaucrats and he has to shout to get their attention. To get their heads out of their
And eventually he decides its not worth talking to them because they may or may not get it
Instead he goes and talks to the whole crowd and explains to them what true defilement is, telling them that there is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.
After hes taken so much effort to chide the Pharisees, to explain what he thinks about defilement to the crowd in pretty clear terms, after all of this his disciples come to him and ask what he means.
Well, we say that Christ is all God and all man at the same time
the human side of Jesus seems pretty exasperated now
people just arent getting it, not even his disciples.
So Jesus is even more blunt with themthis bit was omitted from our lectionary readings this morning, but this is what he says to them:
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