What I’m Thinking: What Defiles

Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash their hands routinely – Jesus wasn’t concerned. He was concerned about people abandoning their parents, however.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the seventh chapter of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 7:1-23). Our lectionary editors have tried to follow one particular strand of Jesus’ teaching here, and so therefore you’ve got some verses(1-8), and then a gap, and then some verses (14-15), and then a gap, and then some verses to close (21-23). But I’m thinking about the entire section with the omissions no longer omitted. I think it actually has something to say about Jesus’ main point, the one on which the lectionary focuses.

Observant people had observed that Jesus’ followers did not routinely wash their hands before eating. That was common practice for first century Jews. Jesus’ response is rather puzzling; it’s another accusation of hypocrisy. He tells them that they have been following the human traditions – washing hands – but ignoring more central, more Scriptural, more Biblical traditions. And the one he seizes upon is the support that people were supposed to offer their parents. “Honor your father and your mother,” as of course it says in the Ten Commandments.

Apparently some families would declare that portion of their resources that would have been used to support aging parents as gifts to God, and if it was a gift to God, it could not be used to support the parents. To Jesus, this was clearly a terrible thing to do.

So he went on to say that it is not what comes into a person’s body that defiles. It’s not about dirt or unwashed hands. It’s what comes out of a person that defiles, and it is those evil intentions that turn into evil actions, things that harm other people: those, said Jesus, come from within.

So I’m thinking about the acts of “devotion” that have been used in our day and in other days to cause enormous harm, worse by far than impoverishing one’s parents, which is awful. But people have devotedly stolen, maimed, and killed. In these days, people, as an act of “devotion,” are refusing COVID-19 vaccines or refusing to wear a mask around other people – and these are things that are coming from within.

So it is, I think, more than time for us to summon up from within the best of ourselves, to treat one another well out of a strong desire that our neighbors and the stranger live lives that are worthy of the dignity of one created in the image of God.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , | Posted on August 23, 2021

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