Today’s reading: Judges 8; Acts 12; Jeremiah 21; Mark 7
It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon and I’m on a long road trip home from a beautiful ten days in the northern most region of Minnesota. Our family joined my parents in an annual trip to the Boundary Waters for a week of quiet existence without any cell service, not a single computer screen and a whole lot of God’s creation. We only had to make one trip to the hospital this time around and surprisingly it was for my husband. Some sharpened kitchen knives found their way out of a grocery bag and into his leg! Anyway, all is well now that the stitches are in place. I mention this mostly to highlight the generosity and kindness of my Bible Journal author friends who are going to great lengths to get this post online as I am still in digital darkness!
I had the blessing of some uninterrupted reading and reflection time on the water this week! There’s a lot for us to learn today from all four scriptures. Although I love Jeremiah, I read some really interesting and I think convicting work on Mark 7. In the very beginning of the chapter Mark details an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees (and some scribes). The Pharisees gather around Jesus and begin asking him about some of his disciples and their practices regarding cleanliness. Essentially, they are questioning why his followers do not follow the strict Mosiac Law regarding hand washing and washing of vessels before eating and drinking. The Pharisees are implicitly criticizing the disciples. Jesus responds with razor-edged clarity:
“And he said to them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” (Mark 7:6)
Man, I am really starting to like this Jesus guy! Do you ever wish you could be more like Jesus? He’s confident, strong, slow to anger but quick to get people on the right path! He’s not denying the validity of the law or its individual commandments. Instead he is rejects how various interpretations can deviate too far from the intent of the law. Jesus is citing Isaiah 29:13 in his teaching.
“And the Lord said: Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…” (Isaiah 29:13)
See what Jesus does there? He uses Isaiah to show the contrast between the lips/mouth and the heart. In other words; impurity is a matter of the heart, not the mouth. He shows us that the issue of defilement is not so much insignificant but raises the point that the basic tenant of the Mosaic Law is about restraining from evil. He says:
“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” (Mark 7:15)
He goes on to remind his followers (that’s us) that it’s wicked thoughts, wicked words and wicked actions that defile us. He is telling us clearly that the source of defilement is far more internal than external. He warns against using words and rituals while setting aside God’s true commandments. Jesus may have disagreed with the Pharasees and Scribes about the interpretation of the law but the message was clear. It’s the quality, character and intention of the human heart that matters. Joel Marcus, a professor at Duke University Divinity School wrote on this passage extensively. He notes the concentration of the word Anthropos which translates to “human being” or “person”. It is used eleven times in the span of Mark 7:7-23.
“The basic problem Christians should be concerned about, Mark seems to be saying through this striking pileup of the word Anthropos, is not how or what one should eat but the internal corruption of the Anthropos. It is this malignancy that chokes the life out of tradition, turns it into an enemy of God, contorts it into a way of excusing injustice, and blinds those afflicted by it to their own culpability for the evils that trouble the world.”
Therefore, my friends we have indeed met the enemy and it is ourselves. I loved the opportunity to dive deep into this short segment of Mark’s gospel this week. I hope I can work to purify my heart and truly learn from the lesson Jesus has for us today. We are so blessed to have these sacred words that are astoundingly so applicable to our everyday life!