Tuesday, September 4, 2018

My Hands are Clean... Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

My hands are clean…but I am about to get them dirty!
It is interesting to note that every commentator I have researched all start with the same concept…

“Welcome back to Mark! After six weeks in John’s “bread of life” chapter, you’re probably more than ready to come back to the extended story Mark is telling about Jesus.”

Whew that john text was hard and now we do not have to hear it again till three years from now.  So we are back in mark and it is so much easier right…it is just about washing our hands.  How simple is that. I mean whew have all heard it …did oyu wash your hands before you sat at the table young man.

For me this was annoying I would get up from the table in a huff and rush off run my hands under water and wipe them off on my jeans and sit down again…
Of course, then came the next question…Did you use soap??? Ugh maaaaaa!

You do not get to eat until those hands are clean now go!

At the age of 15 I started working in nursing homes and then in care homes and schools for the developmentally disabled believe me my routine around clean hands changed very quickly.

“That can’t surely be what’s going on in this passage, can it, an argument about washing hands before eating that has probably been repeated in each and every one of our homes? Yes and no. Yes, it really is about the practice of washing hands. No, as is often true in such arguments, there is often more going on beneath the surface than initially meets the eye. With our kids, maybe they just forgot. Or maybe they’ve decided that even though Mom and Dad think this hand washing-thing is important, they don’t, and, while they’re at it, maybe they’re tired of all the rules Mom and Dad are making. So maybe not washing their hands, in this case, is less about forgetfulness and more about testing their parents’ authority.”[1]

A very similar thing is happening here.  The Pharisees are getting all in a huff because the disciples are not following tradition.  “why don’t you follow the tradition of our elders?” Their tradition and the tradition and the law must be upheld.  How can Jesus’ authority usurp that of the law??

“And at this point, it’s nearly crucial to put back in the verses the lectionary omits. Because it’s not simply about authority, but authority linked to behavior. Our everyday, ordinary, decisions about how we treat each other. Which is why Jesus throws the “tradition of the elders” thing back in their faces. Want to talk about tradition? Jesus asks. Then let’s talk about the tradition – make that a commandment! – of honoring our parents. Seems pretty straight forward to me, and yet you’ve found a religious loop-hole by which you can declare your wealth an offering to God and thereby not have to share it with your parents!”[2]

“Jesus knows, of course, that when the scribes and Pharisees ask why some of his disciples do not wash their hands, the question is not an innocent one. It is meant to indict Jesus. Asking why some of his followers "do not live according to the tradition of the elders" (Mark 7:5) is really accusing Jesus of not following the law himself, of acting as if he believes himself to be above the law. Knowing this, Jesus responds with a rebuke from Isaiah (Isaiah 7:6-7), which changes the direction of the conversation: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Mark 7:6b). Jesus calls them "hypocrites (Mark 7:6a)," because they "abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition" (Mark 7:8). This reproach is more than a condemnation of empty worship practices; it is a condemnation of the scribes' and Pharisees' distortion of tradition in order to circumvent the law. Jesus is not rejecting the law; in fact, he is rebuking them for their failure to uphold it.

Mark 7:9-13, which are not a part of the lection for today, clarify Jesus' point. Jesus condemns the scribes' and Pharisees' use of Corban: a practice of willing assets to the Temple, assets that may no longer be used for the family's, including elderly parents', care. Such a practice, Jesus asserts, violates the commandment to "honor your father and mother" (Exodus 20:12), for it enables the denial of support to parents who are in need. The scribes and Pharisees are allowing people to circumvent the moral and legal imperative to care for their parents through the use of Corban and are "thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on" (Mark 7:13).”[3]

To me , what I am hearing is …you do not get to pick and choose how or if  you will follow quote “the Law” end quote.  You see…

“The question raised by the Pharisees in 7:5 is apparently a sincere one, and the narrator tells us why in vs. 3-4. Ritual purity is an essential dimension of Pharisaic religion, an effort to claim Jewish identity in a world that was much happier with a polytheistic style. The pharisees argued that the practice of eating with undefiled hands was an obligation imposed not on Temple priests only, but on all Jewish people who sought to be the holy nation they had been called to be. To heed a stipulation of the oral law (“the tradition of the elders’) like this was not to escape into trivialities but to demonstrate how seriously the law of God is to be taken.”[4]

These purity codes where basically traditions used to say who was in and who was out. Who are the proud members of the Jewish faith?  They are the ones who perform outward signs that they belong so all who observe know they are good faithful practicing Jews. But where the pharisees missed the boat was the opportunity to care for the elderly, the sick and the widows. Basically they were picking and choosing just which purity codes to follow...  Which traditions to follow.

It raises some interesting questions…

“Jesus is challenging them as to how their traditions contribute to them fulfilling their mission. And I think this is just where this week’s sermon might bring this odd passage to bear on our shared life. I mean, maybe we don’t seem at first blush quite as fussy about tradition as Jesus’ opponents did, but what if you were to suggest tinkering with some of our own traditions? Perhaps changing worship in order to make worship more understandable and accessible to a younger generation? Or what if you were to drop the lectionary in favor of moving through the narrative of the Bible? Or what if you were to cancel all committees in favor of a more nimble way of governing the congregation? Or what if you were to suggest getting rid of pews to make the sanctuary space more flexible so you could offer it to some community groups? Or what if each fourth Sunday folks didn’t come to church at all but rather were engaged in community service throughout your county? Or what if…?

You probably get the idea. We each have traditions that are more than traditions. They are markers of what has been accepted as right and wrong and thereby serve to lend us a sense of stability. (Never mind that our traditions do in fact change over time – what’s important is that they appear unchanging in the moment!) This passage serves both to relativize our traditions – should we really hold them sacred? – while also pushing us to the far more important concern of the law to help us care for each other. ”[5]

The broader context into which this interchange between Jesus and the pharisees occurs presents an interesting backdrop. On the one hand, there are two generous feeding of the hungry multitudes (6;30-44; 8:1-10), and an extravagant summary of Jesus’ healing s in and around Gennesaret (6:53-56).  They pose a sharp contrast to the restrictive issue of washing the hands before eating. On the other hand, the interchange of the Pharisees is followed by the stories of the persistent faith of the Gentile woman of Syrophoenician origin, who asks only for the crumbs and her daughter is healed. And the restoration of hearing and speech to the deaf man living in the gentile are called Decapolis (7:24-37). It is as if Jesus’ critique of Kosher laws (“thus he declared all foods clean,” 7:19) is then documented by the healings of these non-Jewish people.”[6]

It is not what we put in our bodies but what comes out of our hearts and lips. Proclaiming that the kingdom of God belonged only to the Jewish people who followed only certain rules and regulation as opposed to offering peace, healing, food, welcome, to those beyond their borders was what was wrong. You can keep your traditions as long as they are not interfering with the work of Gods kindom here on earth.

Letting people know they are loved welcomed and cared for isn’t always easy. Sometimes it contradicts our own “traditions.” We are called as Christians to grow, study , learn…as a result we have ONA churches. “Open and Affirming (ONA) is the United Church of Christ's (UCC) designation for congregations, campus ministries, and other bodies in the UCC which make a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.”[7]

We have immigrant welcoming churches. “In a world becoming increasingly globalized, more people are leaving their homelands to seek better lives and opportunities in new countries. Their reasons for leaving are diverse and complex: economic necessity, war, or persecution. The U.S. has long been a nation of immigrants and we have consistently been conflicted about this. We gratefully welcome immigrants and their contributions, and we exclude them, discriminate against them and, at times, inflict grave harm upon them.

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors. The Bible is unambiguous in calling us to welcome aliens and strangers in our land, and to love them as we love ourselves. In these times, let us listen to the voice of the still-speaking God. We will learn how to respond to these new sisters and brothers residing among us.”[8]

We are an earth Justice Denomination

Since we are about to enter the season of creation and many are marching this Saturday September 8: Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice in san Francisco I would like to share this video

It is time we got our hands dirty …The church needs to strive to be a place of welcome, education and partnership as we seek to mirror the kindom of God here on earth …amen!

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/08/pentecost-14-b-tradition/
[2] Ditto
[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2607
[4] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.,pg. 492
[5] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/08/pentecost-14-b-tradition/
[6] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.,pg. 492
[7] http://www.ucc.org/lgbt_ona
[8] http://www.ucc.org/justice_immigration

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