MARK 7:1-8, 14-23
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He 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.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “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.” When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ, our redeemer and friend, and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
Have you seen the exterminator company commercial where the woman all in white armed with a spray bottle of cleaner is freaked out about the bugs coming into her clean house? And the company rep says something to the effect, “That’s just what they do. Bugs come into houses.”
No matter how clean you keep your house, you will have a few bugs. Similarly, No matter how good you are, you still need rescue from sin. In our confession this morning we prayed that we would be cleansed from “proud thoughts and empty desires.” Sometimes we say, “We are bound by sin and we cannot redeem ourselves.” Another familiar phrase “We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” All of them tell the truth of human life; we might not mean to, and sometimes we do mean to, but we WILL eventually hurt those we love, those we care for, those we don’t even know.
We all need to be redeemed. Max Lucado, in his book “In the Grip of Grace” described our inability to redeem ourselves as comparing it to jumping skills. A professional athlete or dancer is going to be able to jump a lot higher than I can. And I may be able to jump better than someone with a broken leg. But none of us can jump to the moon… not even close. And the equivalent of jumping to the moon would be what it would take to earn our salvation. We don’t even come close.
We are all on a continuum—with a 1 being totally depraved, no redeeming qualities and a 10 being Jesus. Most of us are higher than a 2 or 3, but very few of us even get to 8 or 9. We are all somewhere solidly in the middle.
But the relief is, our value to God isn’t tied to our ability to “raise our number” on our own. God loves us simply because that is what God does.
So the argument in our gospel today between the Pharisees and Jesus rages on. The Pharisees know God’s law was given so that the people of Israel might follow it and set the example for the nations of the world what a loving and idyllic society comes from following God’s commands. Therefor following the law is very important to the Pharisees. It wasn’t so much about earning salvation. They didn’t really think in those terms. Israel was the chosen people. They were already “saved”. That happened centuries ago when God called Moses to lead the people out of slavery through the sea, through the wilderness and into the promised land. The prequel was when God called Abram to pack up and go to a new place, the promised land. It was even reinforced again when God was with the people of Israel even when they were in exile in Babylon. God had chosen them for a purpose: to be the example set for the world to follow. God’s goodness is on display, though, even when the people of Israel didn’t do what they were called to do. That’s the amazing thing about God. God works things out for good, for wholeness, for holiness. There is nothing God cannot redeem.
The problem Jesus had with the Pharisees was twofold: they were picking and choosing which of the laws they would emphasize and which they would not. AND to make matters worse, their choices were not based on love of God and hospitality to the neighbor, but on their own self-interest; what would preserve their place in history, what would protect their seat of power, what would promote their own agenda.
Jesus called their motives into question.
And that is still the question today. What drives you? What’s your “Why?”
Our best ‘why’ is: because Jesus healed and fed and forgave, we are also called to heal and feed and forgive. Because God first loved us, we are called to love. Because in Christ, God has given so much, we are called to give as well. Now, I know it is Labor Day weekend, and NOBODY is thinking about Christmas yet, (you didn’t see that coming, did you!) but I am telling you, NOW is the time to be thinking about Christmas. Not about Christmas shopping, mind you, but about “Christmas NOT-shopping.” Giving gifts is a wonderful thing. Selecting just the right thing that will improve the life of the person who will receive it is a powerful opportunity. That is hard to do though, in a society where most of us have everything we need. Tell me if you have ever wandered through the stores with no plan or idea, and finally just bought something for your loved one or friend because it was there and you had to buy them something. (Look for raised hands.) None of you? Only me? OK, I thought I wouldn’t be the only one.
So now is the time to talk to your people. Have the discussion about your stuff. Have the conversation about having enough, or too much, and others not having nearly what they need. Consider a different kind of Christmas this year. Consider making a special donation during Advent to a charity of your choice to benefit those who are in need. I can help you with plenty of suggestions. How about Third Avenue Charitable Organization, better known as TACO, feeding and healing the homeless and the at risk downtown. Or how about Agape House, the Lutheran – Episcopal Campus Ministry at San Diego State working on the issues of student hunger and homelessness. Or how about a donation to Lutheran World Relief or Lutheran Disaster Relief… both worthy causes, doing the work of Jesus. Any of them or any of dozens of others would work. You get the idea. Talk with your people now, and decide to send a donation equal to what you would have spent if you would have exchanged presents. Or if you have children, even young children, invite them to pick out a toy they would like to give to a child who doesn’t have toys. We will have a family from El Nido to donate to, or Toys for Tots, or a Teddy Bear for a child with Leukemia through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Having resistance to this idea? Think your people won’t go for it? Check your motives. Ask anyway. Maybe they won’t go for it this year. What can you do on your own this year if they won’t? Maybe they will by next year. Now is the time to think about these things.
Giving and forgiving are the best responses to the gift of God in Christ Jesus.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.