Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Confrontation, for most of us confrontation is not an enjoyable experience. A confrontation may be verbal, physical, solo or social. A confrontation may be meant to
accuse, abuse, humiliate, intimidate, curse or worse. A confrontation may also serve as an attempt an interdiction to the benefit of the one confronted.
I believe that every confrontation Jesus was involved in, he deeply cared for the individuals he encountered. When Jesus was seemingly harsh it stresses the importance of the choices he was offering to all humanity.
For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Lk. 19:10 NRS) This includes the Pharisees and Sadducees, and any other person seduced by arrogance and ignorance in the realm of religion. Jesus came to try and reach the whole world with the good news of the Kingdom of God.
The argument was over handwashing. It was a confrontation of tradition. The confrontation is over the place of traditions in the spiritual life. Why did Jesus not follow tradition? Is Jesus anti-tradition? No, Jesus honored many traditions, but Jesus was not a legalist. When traditions were treated as law and used to judge other people, Jesus pointed these out for what they were, potential evil human creations.
In verse 21 Jesus makes a sobering, convicting proclamation that should awaken us to a significant truth many believers today have forgotten. Listen again to what Jesus says,
“For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:” (Mk. 7:21 NRS)
The human heart, we know it is the organ of the body that pumps blood. It keeps us living. Yet we all know and probably use the word heart in other ways. The use of the word heart can be a means of representing our loves, passions, desires, will, choices, and many other non-material aspects of who we are.
The word for heart, Kardia, in the New Testament refers to the inner self viewed as the seat of physical vitality; viewed as the innermost self, the source and seat of functions of soul and spirit in the emotional life, the volitional life, and the rational life. Our heart defines who we are in relationship to ourselves, others, and God.
God has constantly revealed to humanity that the heart is where the battle for our souls takes place. And we are at a disadvantage. God tells us, “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it? I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” (Jer. 17:9-10 NRS)
In this confrontation with the religious people Jesus is confronting the heart of those who refused to be open to the Spirit of God. He is striving to correct their thinking. Jesus knows that they are spiritually in trouble. Jesus is confronting their hearts and the potential evil they were ignorant of. Jesus, God incarnate, warns them in the strongest means possible that they may think they are worshipping God, but they are not.
He (Jesus) said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” (Mk. 7:6-7 NRS)
I found this definition of tradition and the example it offers as perfect example of how traditions operate. It defines traditions as: “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way: “every shade of color is fixed by tradition and governed by religious laws””
Now where does the Bible say you need to use the color red for Pentecost and Christmas, White for Easter and purple for advent. Yet if you were to use a different color you would like by considered a heretic or a least a closet pagan.
Traditions are helpful when they help us in our faith by creating in us a sense of the holy but are harmful when they move from tradition to legalism. This is what the Pharisees and Sadducees had done with hand washing.
Those arguing with Jesus believed Jesus’s disciples were polluting themselves within by not keep the traditions. Jesus states, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” (Mk. 7:14-15 NRS)
Jesus was letting them know that their traditions, their human innovations, do not determine a person’s spiritual state.
Scripture tells us, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” (Lk. 6:45 NRS)
But if our heart is so deceitful and is so open to evil, what can we do? We cannot do anything, but God, Jesus, offers us this, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezek. 36:26 NRS)
I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. (Jer. 24:7 NRS)
Our Lord, our creator, can create for us a heart of flesh that holds the Spirit. This is the beginning of the relationship. All we have to do is to be open to God’s desire to reveal God’s love for us and to us.
Jesus is also teaching his children (those of us who call him Lord and seek to follow him) how to protect our heart from deception. This is a constant challenge to us all. God have given us the Scripture not as the law, but of love. Every believer should be a student of, a person seeking, a person praying the Scripture.
Can we trust what the Scripture says about itself? With my whole heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments. I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you. (Ps. 119:10-11 NRS)
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12 NRS)
However, primarily, God has sent his Holy Spirit to be with us. The Spirit never forces but will guide. The Spirit will teach us to test traditions. The Spirit will teach us to discern what God’s will (as best we can know) is for us. With the Spirit and the Word, we can then seek to be a people who are more interested in relationships than religious orientations.
Final word to the Apostle Peter, “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” (1 Pet. 1:22 NRS)