Friday 12 November 2021

Bible Book:

'You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.' (v 8)

Mark 7:1-13 Friday 12 November 2021

Psalm 36:5-12


In the opening of Mark 7 we are again presented with a conversation between Jesus, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. The topic of conversation is Jesus’ disciples failing to wash their hands before they eat. If we are honest, we all probably want to side with the Pharisees here. Washing your hands before you eat is basic hygiene, especially in a society that did not use cutlery.

It is not cleanliness that the Pharisees are worried about in this exchange, but rather the obedience of others to the oral law. The oral law was the many sayings and interpretations of the elders that governed the life of the Pharisees and scribes and the Jewish people. These included what could and couldn't be done on the Sabbath as well as rituals that should be performed before eating.

This, then is what is really going on: a struggle between what is more important – that which is written or that which is said. For the Pharisees and scribes, the oral law trumped that of the Torah and it is this Jesus takes up with them. By quoting Isaiah, Jesus challenges the Pharisees and others, showing them as people who seek to obey human wisdom instead of Godly wisdom.

The example that follows is one that brings this practice to light. The scripture tells people to honour their mother and father but the Pharisees and scribes use a religious loophole from the oral law to negate it. By saying that everything they might have contributed to dependents is ‘Corban’ (an offering to God), they could keep hold of their possession and ignore the command to look after their parents.

This, Jesus states, is the tip of the iceberg as the Pharisees seek to overrule God’s word in many ways.Today it is still a challenge for all those who are called to ministry in its many forms. Our privilege of walking alongside other people on their faith journey should not see us instructing them to do things we do not seek to do ourselves.


To Ponder:

  • Think about what church traditions you find helpful and what traditions you find a hindrance or difficult.
  • How can we respect each other’s preferences on this subject?

First published in 2018.

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