Challenging the Showoffs: Mark 7:1-23

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Throughout Jesus’ ministry, it seemed as though He always ran into conflicts with a religious group known as the Pharisees. The Pharisees had become the predominant religious group in Israel at that time, and they had used their position in culture to develop a set of rules that was supposed to keep the people from coming close to breaking God’s laws. However, by the time Jesus entered history as a man walking the earth, things had gotten a little out of hand, and what began as a good idea had spiraled out of control.

The gospel of Mark describes an event where Jesus’ disciples appear to offend the Pharisees, and how Jesus responds to their reaction. For our episode this week, we will be reading from the gospel of Mark, chapter 7, using the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. Beginning in verse 1, Mark tells us that:

Some Pharisees and several teachers of the Law of Moses from Jerusalem came and gathered around Jesus. They noticed that some of his disciples ate without first washing their hands.

The Pharisees and many other Jewish people obey the teachings of their ancestors. They always wash their hands in the proper way before eating. None of them will eat anything they buy in the market until it is washed. They also follow a lot of other teachings, such as washing cups, pitchers, and bowls.

The Pharisees and teachers asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples obey what our ancestors taught us to do? Why do they eat without washing their hands?”

Jesus replied:

You are nothing but show-offs! The prophet Isaiah was right when he wrote that God had said,

“All of you praise me
    with your words,
but you never really
    think about me.
It is useless for you
    to worship me,
when you teach rules
    made up by humans.”

You disobey God’s commands in order to obey what humans have taught. You are good at rejecting God’s commands so that you can follow your own teachings! 10 Didn’t Moses command you to respect your father and mother? Didn’t he tell you to put to death all who curse their parents? 11 But you let people get by without helping their parents when they should. You let them say that what they own has been offered to God. 12 You won’t let those people help their parents. 13 And you ignore God’s commands in order to follow your own teaching. You do a lot of other things that are just as bad.

Pausing our reading here, I want to draw our attention onto the fact that Jesus did not initiate this conflict, nor did His disciples. Instead, this discussion was prompted by a challenge from a group of Pharisees who believed their own traditions were ordained by God. This is a disturbing place to be, because only if you are 100% correct, which is not possible, can you truly have a foundation in your traditions. It is not possible because God is bigger than a set of rules or a tablet of phrases on a stone.

Relationships cannot be dictated by rules, nor can rules push relationships towards growth. Rules do help relationships by giving all parties involved a unified frame of reference, but it is up to the people included in the relationship whether the relationship itself will grow or die.

At this point, Jesus senses a teaching moment. Let’s continue reading from verse 14 and learn what happens:

14 Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Pay attention and try to understand what I mean. 15-16 The food that you put into your mouth doesn’t make you unclean and unfit to worship God. The bad words that come out of your mouth are what make you unclean.”

17 After Jesus and his disciples had left the crowd and had gone into the house, they asked him what these sayings meant. 18 He answered, “Don’t you know what I am talking about by now? You surely know that the food you put into your mouth cannot make you unclean. 19 It doesn’t go into your heart, but into your stomach, and then out of your body.” By saying this, Jesus meant that all foods were fit to eat.

20 Then Jesus said:

What comes from your heart is what makes you unclean. 21 Out of your heart come evil thoughts, vulgar deeds, stealing, murder, 22 unfaithfulness in marriage, greed, meanness, deceit, indecency, envy, insults, pride, and foolishness. 23 All of these come from your heart, and they are what make you unfit to worship God.

The big, challenging thought that Jesus shared is that our cleanliness is more based on what we think, do, or say. The state of our heart is what makes us unclean, because when our hearts are evil, evil actions, words, and thoughts will follow. The passage concludes by saying that these evil things make us unfit to worship God.

Some people at the time believed that the food that was eaten made one acceptable or not acceptable to God. While this is not the case, some people have taken Jesus’ words here to the opposite extreme with the idea that anything can be eaten freely. However, while all “foods” are fit to eat, it would be good for us to define what is intended to be a food for us and what is not. It would also be worth making the distinction that not all foods are equally healthy for us.

Nothing that goes into our mouths makes us less loved by God, but what comes out of our mouths can make us unfit for worship, because the source of what we say is what is inside our hearts.

I’m challenged by this because Jesus is essentially saying that regardless of how we look on a given weekend at church, if our hearts are unclean, then we are unfit to worship Him. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t worship, or that we shouldn’t pray for God to create a new heart within us, but it does mean that we shouldn’t make our worship all about us.

Worshiping with the frame of mind that says we are unfit to come and worship is the beginning of the realization that nothing we do, say, or think can make us more acceptable to God. Instead, this prompts our prayers to be requests for help and acknowledging that our lives are filled with sin – even if that sin is not known by anyone else.

I believe Jesus didn’t say these things against these Pharisees to put them in their place. I believe this was Jesus’ way of challenging them on their own terms, by pointing out inconsistencies with how they say they believed when compared to how they acted. If it were possible, I believe Jesus would have done everything possible to bring these religious people into a better understanding of God, but because their hearts were so hard and stuck on their tradition, even God couldn’t break in.

Part of me wonders if Jesus’ hard words actually did break through some of the hard shells of the Pharisees’ hearts. While there is no way to know on this side of heaven, I am curious if Jesus’ words reached someone in the group, even though everyone else was offended. I wonder if these words challenged the disciples who were present with how they chose to worship God.

Perhaps this is even a challenge for us today.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Humbly come to God and seek Him first in your life. Understand that without Him, our hearts are bent towards evil and selfishness, and only with His help can we hope to be clean and fit to worship Him. The challenge for us is to continually, intentionally move towards Him and ask Him to help clean our lives up.

After making this commitment, it is extra important for us to not only study the Bible for ourselves, but to do so with a prayerful, humble attitude. As we pray and read the Bible, God will impress on our hearts what we need to get rid of and what we should add into our lives.

And when we receive this inspiration, know that it is designed to help us move into where God wants to lead each of us. Because of this reason, I always end each set of challenges by challenging each of us – including me – to never stop short or chicken out of where God wants to lead us to in our lives with Him!

Season 3 – Episode 19: Cam discusses a conflict Jesus has with a group of Pharisees, and what His response tells us about God and about how God wants us to worship Him.

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