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."
Jesus is teaching the Pharisees and scribes—and us—about the difference between external and internal matters. He recalls the words of prophets like Isaiah and those of Jeremiah when he writes, “I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33) Living by the Word of God is a matter of a heart that is forgiven, renewed, and transformed by the gift of God. Failure to understand that is a matter of life or death. Life and death are indeed at stake in the mission of Jesus—as we will hear and know from the continuing story of Mark’s gospel. For Jesus to challenge those external traditions will mean for him death on a cross. But for those who hear and understand, it will mean the promise of transformed hearts which are alive to the Word and promise of God among us.
God of Promise, continue to transform our hearts that we may hear and understand what it means to live not by external rites but by your word of promise which gives life and wholeness. Amen.