Summary: Timeless teaching from Jesus as to the true nature and source of sin.
THE INS AND OUTS OF ‘RELIGIOUS’ PURITY
Every branch of society has its own traditions: some good, some bad, and some inconsequential. It doesn’t matter whether it is the pomp and ceremony of monarchy, or the ritual ‘pardon’ of a turkey at Thanksgiving. Some traditions are helpful, and some indifferent. But some also become outdated and run counter to their original intention.
It is evident from the Gospel, that this was what had happened with the traditions that the scribes and Pharisees had built up around God-given Scripture. The traditions were probably started with good intention but ended (in some cases) as a set of rules and regulations impossible for ordinary people to keep. This in turn served to confirm (in their own mind) the supposed superiority of those who taught them.
Coming from Jerusalem, the scribes and Pharisees brought an accusation to Jesus concerning His disciples (Mark 7:1-5).
This was not about hygiene, as may at first appear, but about certain outward forms and ceremonies. There were many tedious and unnecessary rules and regulations about washing, with meticulous details stipulating which part of the hand should have water poured upon them from which part of the cup at which stage of the procedure. And how they should use the fist in cleansing.
Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the traditionalism of the scribes and Pharisees by quoting Scripture (Mark 7:6-8). Our Lord reinforced this with an example, which Mark is at pains to make clear for Gentile readers (Mark 7:9-13). How often, I wonder, does ‘tradition’ twist and misshape the very Word of God in this way?
It is possible that, in the pursuit of ‘holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14), we might hedge ourselves in with so many rules and regulations that we become imprisoned, rather than liberated. This occurs not only in the ‘Rule’ of this or that Order, but also in the petty unwritten presumptions that are made within our Christian communities. Attitudes to dress codes, dancing, cinema, television, may all fall into this category. (Likewise, the rebellions against these attitudes may become traditions in their own right, and equally enslave.)
Jesus next turned to the crowds (Mark 7:14-16), and finally to the disciples (Mark 7:17-23), with timeless teaching concerning the root of evil. Sin does not consist in that which we put in our mouths (Mark 7:15; Mark 7:18). It begins in the heart, and from thence proceeds out of the mouth (Mark 7:20).
‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’ (Jeremiah 17:9). We speak the wickedness within into existence without. Words are powerful!
Jesus taught elsewhere that adultery begins in the heart when a man looks lustfully on a woman. The sin is entertained in the heart long before it gives expression in the deed, and so Jesus (in a figure) recommends some drastic surgery (Matthew 5:28-30). This is a clarion call to engage the enemy of our souls in the war against sin (Hebrews 12:4).
And the ultimate cure for all evil is found in the work of our Lord Jesus Christ at the Cross of Calvary. And His subsequent resurrection.