The Revised Common Lectionary reading for August 29, 2021
Gospel Reading: Mark 7:1-23
Jesus’ popularity was growing. Crowds were coming. Word of Jesus’ popularity had reached King Herod. Stories of plentiful food and calming storms circulating among the people. Chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel tells us that “Wherever he went – villages, cities, or farming communities – they would place the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to allow them to touch even the hem of his clothing. Everyone who touched him was healed.”
The Good News of Christ had come. People had bread. People were fed. Even the storms seemed to obey this wandering preacher. The movement was gaining steam and lives were being transformed. Herod wasn’t the only one in Jerusalem who had heard about Jesus. Enter the Pharisees and Legal Experts from Jerusalem. They came to see just what was going on, and what did they see?
They didn’t see the people with enough to eat. They didn’t see people’s lives being restored. They didn’t see the good news preached to the poor and oppressed. They saw the disciples not washing their hands. Germ-theory and best COVID practices aside, this is not what they should have seen. They were students of Torah – they should have seen God’s greatest commandment being lived out. Instead of rejoicing at the love of God and love of neighbor that was overflowing, they saw only the breaking of tradition.
“That’s not how we do it!” They complained to Jesus. “We have rules to follow. We have a discipline to uphold” (Mark 7:5 paraphrased).
They were worried that breaking their tradition could contaminate them. They were worried that if the proper way was not upheld, they would lose their relationship with God. They were convinced that the rules they had created were as important as the Law of God. Jesus, frustrated with their lack of being able to see what was actually happening, reminds them of what truly matters. The rules, well-intentioned as they were – had missed the point.
Quoting Isaiah, Jesus says, “Your worship of me is empty since they teach instruction that are human words. You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you” (Mark 7:7-8).
To get this point across to his disciples, he makes a wonderful poop joke (yes, Jesus makes a poop joke!). What enters the mouth exits the other end and goes into the sewer. The Pharisees were concerned about a rule that mattered about as much as what drains into the sewer. What harms our relationship with God is not breaking human rules. It is denying God’s love. They missed the gospel happening right in front of their face by focusing on what comes to a pile of waste. If they had really been paying attention, they would have seen God’s people being fed instead of hands not being washed.
In the end, we are left to reflect on what are human rules and what is God’s Law. God’s Law is love. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Love each other. Love yourself. To deny these aspects of love is to ignore God’s commandment. Jesus differentiates between human rules and God’s Law is love. Human rules should help us follow God’s Law. God’s focus is on the heart. So should ours. Focus on the heart. Focus on the love. When the rules and traditions stop helping us do that, they should be ignored. They are worth about as much as what flows into the sewer.