Summary: by not washing his hands Jesus teaches a lesson in righteousness
September 21, 2003 Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles and dining couches. So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?" He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
"‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’ " For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’"
Dr. Dobson once said that cleaning a house with young children in it is like shoveling the sidewalk while it is snowing. I can verify that what he said is true. When children get to be around ten months old, they start crawling around the house, opening up drawers, and throwing stuff on the floor. Then right when you get one mess cleaned up, you find the cushions were taken off the sofa and need to be put back on. You can just clean up the house, and five minutes later, it’s trashed again. The thing that is especially amazing is that two young and healthy adults cannot keep up with a ten month old and a two year old child without getting exhausted. These are the kinds of things that can drive a “clean” person absolutely crazy.
The Pharisees were the equivalent of what I would call the spiritual clean freaks of Jesus’ society. What Jesus does to the Pharisees in today’s text, is the equivalent of taking a thousand pieces of spaghetti, crunching them up, and throwing them into their spiritual house. He completely messes up their theological system of cleanliness. For all of you Felix Ungers of religion, you better bolt the doors and close the windows, for Jesus is going to enter your house with dirty feet, and trample on your clean carpet. Jesus is about to drive you crazy.
Jesus Crushes and Cures Your Quest For Cleanliness
I. The Quest
This quest for cleanliness from the Pharisees originated with God. The Ceremonial Law of the Old Testament had much to say about clean and unclean animals. These laws were full of regulations on what kind of animals you could touch, and also what kind of things you needed to do if you became unclean. Among these rites there were also sometimes official washings that were regularly required. You had to wash if you touched an unclean animal, if you walked into a house with mildew, if you had a skin disease, and even if you came in contact with a dead person. There were plenty of “washings” to go around.
Yet this wasn’t enough for the Pharisees - they wanted even more washings to make sure they were clean. Mark informs us that The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles, and dining couches. They connected these “washings” - literally “baptisms” - to every aspect of their eating. This was “the tradition of the elders.” In other words, it was something that their spiritual leaders told them they should do if they really want to make sure they stay ceremonially clean. About three or four centuries before the birth of Christ the Pharisees came up with 613 rules that regulated Israel’s life down to the smallest details - ways to become or keep clean. In the eye of the beholder, then, with all of these rules and regulations it was a very “clean” religion. The Pharisees were set apart from every other religion in the way they visibly and physically had these washings when the others didn’t.