St. Mark 7.vv.1-23

~ 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 honours 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 said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, 'Honour your father and mother' and 'Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die'. But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, 'Whatever support you might have from me is Corban' (that is an offering to God) - then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this".

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 our 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." ~

This reading is of tremendous importance because it shows how different were the views of Jesus from those of the Pharisees and Scribes on what constitutes true religion.

It foreshadows the Cross in demonstrating how hostile the religious authorities would be towards Jesus, his teachings and his acts.

It warns us against mistaking the trappings and legalism of religion for a genuine faith.

It centres upon the "tradition of the elders", a hide-bound, legalistic system that developed within Jewry, at the best providing helpful guidelines for conduct and spirituality but, unfortunately, at its worst having a strangling effect upon its most ardent practitioners.

The basic idea of this cultus was the concept of "Holiness", that is, "apartness"; there must be no contamination in religious or even secular affairs (and the dividing line, if any, was very thin!).

Jesus deals with several aspects of "contamination". First, he deals with Koinos, i.e. "common", that is unclean, unwashed hands. The many rules and regulations concerning this have little to do with hygiene, but a prescribed ritual making one acceptable to God. Jesus, though a Jew, would have none of it!

Next Jesus refers to cleanliness of vessels. Though apparently clean, vessels could be contaminated by "unclean" persons or foods. People could be "unclean", that is, taboo after child-bearing, by contact with death or with Gentiles and in various other ways - but Jesus, though a Jew, would have none of it!

The unfamiliar word "Corban" refers to dedicating objects to God's service whilst neglecting the pressing needs of even one's nearest and dearest. Jesus, though a Jew, would have none of it!

These are some of the practices to which Jesus was opposed. He spoke a different language! There is here a fundamental cleavage.

For the ultra-orthodox Jew as represented by the Scribes and Pharisees, religion consisted of ritual, regulations and ceremonial duly observed. For Jesus and his followers, religion was purely a matter of loving and serving God and one's fellows.

Jesus charged the Pharisees and Scribes with "hypocrisy". The word refers to play acting, that is, masking one's true identity, one's genuine self. There is a sense in which we all "put on a face" before the world. If we do this to encourage and help others, and also bare our souls before God - all well and good; but we should take to heart Jesus' strictures on the hypocrisy he witnessed and strive to ensure that our religion is pure and undefiled, a loving response to the love of God for what he has done for us.

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