Friday 05 February 2016

Bible Book:

“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?’” (v. 5)

Mark 7:1-13 Friday 5 February 2016

Psalm: Psalm 31:1-8


So far in Mark's Gospel the presence of crowds everywhere hassuggested Jesus' ministry was being met with universal acclaim.This passage, which shows him being challenged by the Pharisees andsome "scribes who had come from Jerusalem" (v. 1), reveals thatJesus also has his critics.

The issue is that some of Jesus' disciples were eating with"defiled hands", that is unwashed hands. This was a particularconcern for the Pharisees who, as Mark's Gospel explains (a factwhich suggests that this Gospel was originally written for anaudience unfamiliar with Jewish customs), insist on thoroughlywashing their hands and all other utensils used for cooking andeating. Indeed some scholars have suggested that what the Phariseeswere looking to do was to require all faithful Jews to observe the'Holiness code' to the same level and degree which was expected ofpriests and levites.

Jesus' reply was vigorous and to the point. First he challengedthe basis of such criticism, saying that in their zeal they gobeyond what actually the Mosaic law requires, quoting from theprophet Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13) who offered a similar critique ofthe religious practices of his own day, and what they were doinginstead was to "abandon the commandment of God and hold to humantradition" (v. 8).

He then went on to challenge their some of their own practices,in particular their use of the custom of 'corban' (which againMark's Gospel explains in verse 11). This is the practice wherebyonce something has been committed to God as a gift, it is regardedas no longer available for other use, even for the support ofelderly parents. Indeed this can mean that the practice is usedspecifically to avoid the obligation to help in such situations andthus makes void the commandment to "Honour your father andmother"(v. 10, quoting Exodus20:12).

Nor is this the only case at issue according to Jesus, for hesaid that they "do many things like this" which is why he callsthem "hypocrites" (v. 6). This is a language and a debate to whichwe will return later in the Gospel, in particular when Jesus entersJerusalem and become involved in a whole series of debates aboutreligious authority (as we shall hear more about in a month'stime.)

To Ponder

  • How uncomfortable do you feel about Jesus' challenging hisopponents with 'hypocrisy'?
  • Are there aspects to our religious life today where we may beopen to the same challenge? What might they be?
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