Our Traditions

Image by Manuel Darío Fuentes Hernández from Pixabay 

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10

James 1:17-27

Mark 7:1-23

1-5 And now Jesus was approached by the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem. They had noticed that his disciples ate their meals with “common” hands—meaning that they had not gone through a ceremonial washing. [footnote] So the Pharisees and the scribes put this question to Jesus, “Why do your disciples refuse to follow the ancient tradition, and eat their bread with ‘common’ hands?”

[footnote] The Pharisees, and indeed all the Jews, will never eat unless they have washed their hands in a particular way literal Greek: “except they wash the hands with a fist,”, following a traditional rule. And they will not eat anything bought in the market until they have first performed their “sprinkling”. And there are many other things which they consider important, concerned with the washing of cups, jugs and basins. Phillips

I pulled verses 3-4 out as a footnote because that is the way it would be treated if written today. Mark wanted his Greek readers to understand the “strange” ritual of the pious Jews. I expect most of us grew up with parents who insisted on clean hands at the dinner table, and in this time of Covid concerns, more people are careful than even before. I wash all fresh produce as soon as I get it home, even if it is to be cooked.

The Greek word used for ‘wash’ here is based on the word for baptism, meaning that the hands and food are thoroughly cleaned. Just because your apples are in a plastic bag does not make them clean; in fact, they are more likely to be a health risk because of incubation in the enclosed bag.

What we need to understand is that washing hands and food is sound health policy, but it is not sound theology. No where in the 613 commandments are we instructed to wash before eating. It is reasonable to conclude that God wants us to do so given that there are several commandments that encourage cleanliness, but no command.

Also, notice how Jesus responds. He does not defend his disciples.

6-8 Jesus replied, “You hypocrites, Isaiah described you beautifully when he wrote—‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’. You are so busy holding on to the traditions of men that you let go the commandment of God!”

9-13 Then he went on, “It is wonderful to see how you can set aside the commandment of God to preserve your own tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honour your father and your mother’ and ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death’. But you say, ‘if a man says to his father or his mother, Korban—meaning, I have given God whatever duty I owed to you’, then he need not lift a finger any longer for his father or mother, so making the word of God invalid for the sake of the tradition which you hold. And this is typical of much of what you do.” Phillips

Korban is sacrifice, in the simplest sense. Giving time, money, talents, fall under the definition in ancient Hebrew context. What has Jesus so upset is the—apparently—common practice of Pharisees of dedicating all their wealth to God so that they could say, sorry folks, I have no money for you. And, yes, I left out an important point. The Pharisees dedicated their wealth to God upon their deaths, so they were free to spend it on themselves meanwhile. Talk about a nice tax loophole.

If you peek back at chapter 6, there was a lot going on; Jesus had to be getting tired after feeding 5,000+, walking on water, and healing countless people. And these wise-guys from the city want to challenge him on hand washing—ritual washing, no less—no wonder Jesus unloaded on them.

14-15 And He called the people to [Him] again and said to them, Listen to Me, all of you, and understand [what I say]. There is not [even] one thing outside a man which by going into him can pollute and defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him and make him unhallowed and uncleanAmplified Bible

This translation helps us to understand that Jesus was not talking about getting sick from eating tainted food. He is talking here about washing our hearts out of respect for God; about staying true to His Word.

Most modern translations do not include verse 16 because it never appears in the oldest copies—copies that have only been uncovered in the past couple of centuries.

17 And when He had left the crowd and had gone into the house, His disciples began asking Him about the parable. 18 And He said to them, Then are you also unintelligent and dull and without understanding? Do you not discern and see that whatever goes into a man from the outside cannot make him unhallowed or unclean, 19 Since it does not reach and enter his heart but [only his] digestive tract, and so passes on [into the place designed to receive waste]? Thus He was making and declaring all foods [ceremonially] clean [that is, abolishing the ceremonial distinctions of the Levitical Law]Amplified Bible

If you read most modern English translation, you will see that they say the same thing that the Amplified version gives us. If we could read the Greek, we would see a less sanitized rendering than most of those translations.

Mark does include the footnote declaring all foods clean. Jesus did not say that as a part of this passage, but by the time Mark wrote the Gospel, Peter had received the first direct message in his dream where God told him to eat all that was before him, and Paul delivered the same message in his letters.

So, while God commanded, Of all the creatures living in the water, you may eat any that has fins and scales. But anything that does not have fins and scales you may not eat; for you it is unclean. (i.e. shrimp, clams, catfish), Deuteronomy 14:9-10 we are now free to eat shrimp, clams, catfish, grubs, grasshoppers, and scrambled eggs-and-calf-brain.

20 “It is what comes out of a person,” he went on, “that makes him unclean. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come forth wicked thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, arrogance, foolishness…. 23 All these wicked things come from within, and they make a person unclean.” CJB

20 “It is what comes out of a person,” he went on, “that makes him unclean. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come forth wicked thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, arrogance, foolishness…. 23 All these wicked things come from within, and they make a person unclean.” CJB

Continue to wash your hands and your food, but never ignore God and His Ways.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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