Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 (NRSV)
Chapter 7Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, Verse 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. Verse 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; Verse 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) Verse 5So 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?" Verse 6He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
Verse 14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: Verse 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile." Verse 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, Verse 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. Verse 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
The Pharisees and scribes who challenge Jesus may think that they are listening to Moses and his call to remember the statutes and ordinances of God. But somehow, Jesus says, they’ve gotten the words right but have missed the central point of the tradition. True remembrance of the tradition is to understand what it is that the tradition seeks to maintain—it is about those things which combine to promote life in its deepest sense. Jesus agrees with Moses: God’s statutes are not first and foremost about externals—about eating the right foods or washing the dishes in the right way—they are about honoring relationships and caring for the well-being of God’s people and all of creation. In the same way it is true for us as we seek to follow this Jesus faithfully: we need to get beyond mere “right words” on our lips and let our hearts lead us to actions of love and service that can bring wholeness of life for our world.
God of Mercy, lead us to not let concern for rote observance of traditions or practices get in the way of responding to your call to act from the heart in love and service to our neighbor. Amen.