Year B, Mark 7_1-8, 14-15, 21-23, WORSHIP AT HOME REFLECTION

In our Gospel passage today we move back into Mark and away from our tour through John 6 which we have had for the last few weeks. The story we hear today is about an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees who are discussing the actions of Jesus’ disciples.

The Pharisees are observing Jesus’s disciples and I can almost hear them tutting as they watch the disciples eating without washing their hands correctly before doing so. As far as the Pharisees were concerned, the actions of Jesus’ disciples were unacceptable, offensive even. The Pharisees felt as if the disciples were desecrating their rituals and insulting God in the process.

It is really easy to paint the Pharisees as the bad guys in this passage, but there is an important point to remember-as far as they were concerned, the ritual hand washing that preceded any eating was their way of keeping Torah, of serving God, ultimately they were trying to preserve what they believed to be the right a proper way to worship.

We do this in many ways in our own places of worship, something is put in place with all good intentions and is perhaps, quite meaningful to many. After a time, we find ourselves believing there is only one way of doing things because that is the way it has always been done. Or we have done it so often it has become rote and loses meaning altogether. And yet, somehow it gets all caught up in our experience of faith. This shouldn’t be ignored. Those Pharisees so long ago were not only trying to be mean spirited about the disciples, hand washing may well have meant a great deal to their journeys of faith. Just as our local traditions mean a great deal to us and our experience of faith.

For me personally, it is about the singing of certain hymns at different times of the year. These have formed my understanding of faith, and of how the church organises it’s life around festivals. But if I dig into it, it’s mainly about tradition, and whilst it was right and proper for the time and place where I grew up, it might not be for the here and now.

When challenged about all of this, Jesus offers a paradigm of what goes in versus what comes out. He suggests that the condition of one’s heart is more important than performing rituals perfectly. He reminds us that all the visible signs of piety in the world mean nothing if we do not draw first towards God. To have actions without the love of God is not true religion. Both are required. Authentic faith is about relationship with God (hearing) and religion (doing) not just one or the other. Our outward actions should be for the glory of God, but they must first and foremost draw us towards him in relationship.

The list of sins at the end of the passage can be seen to pair up well with the Ten Commandments, Jesus is reminding the Pharisees that not keeping the law from Moses leads to sinfulness and defilement. Righteousness is not simply based upon actions, but on the whole person. He doesn’t want us to give up on outwards actions, but to focus on whether they are mirrored with the internal nature of the heart. The plain but challenging truth is that authentic faith has always been about God’s grace changing your heart and mind so much that it changes the way you live. It’s not a matter of lip service, but of heart service. Authentic faith is about a different way of living that flows naturally from a heart that has been changed by God’s love and mercy and grace, and therefore a heart that can do no less than seek to make all of life about loving God and loving others.

Rev’d Hannah Lane