Summary: What is baptism - what is washed?

Concordia Lutheran Church

Twelfth Sunday of Pentecost – August 22, 2009

What Needs to be Washed?

Mark 7:1-13 and Eph 5:21-33

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace, the mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, that was given to you when you were washed in the waters of baptism sustain you always!

As you read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Pharisees and other religious leaders confront Jesus and his teaching over and over. They question his views on taxes, and on relationships, on the afterlife, and on authority. In today’s gospel, they confront Jesus on what at first appears to be an issue of hygiene, of good, healthy practices.

It is far more than advice on avoiding the swine flu, the discussion is about the core of the gospel, and understanding the issue is critical to our faith, and to the way in which we walk through life, whether we live full of joy, and basking in the peace of God, or whether we struggle with guilt and shame, and wondering if God is out to get us, because of our past.

It is a discussion that gets to the heart of our ministry here at Concordia. It is why we gather in worship, and in Bible study. It is the reason we have an elementary school, and a preschool, and we have deacons and elders, and boards and committees.

By no means is this a discussion about health standards, it is a discussion about “what needs to be washed.”

What must Be washed/baptized?

Levitical Law – that which has contacted unclean

Cups, pots, kettles, dining couches and recliners?

As you look at the discussion, it becomes apparent that the Pharisees had a lot of practices “handed” down to them. For that is what it means – that which is handed down.

There are traditions, things handed down, that are good and beneficial. Paul uses the verb form of the word in 1 Corinthians when he says

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 1Co 11:23 (ESV)

He uses it again in 1Corinthians 15:3 (ESV)

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

In the Old Testament, there were a number of traditions as well – traditions that were meant by God to be passed down, and indeed, they were. Such traditions included the washing of anything that came in contact with something unclean – whether it be unclean animals, things carrying disease, people who had sinned, or that which was bloody. When these things were contacted, the Law- given to them by God usually stipulated something like,

Lev 11:28 (ESV) and he who carries their carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening; they are unclean to you.

Lev 14:47 (ESV) and whoever sleeps in the house shall wash his clothes, and whoever eats in the house shall wash his clothes.

Even when the priests were to go in the Tabernacle or the Temple, they had to ritually wash, as noted in Exodus 30,

20 When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. 21 They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.”

Some have speculated that some of God’s commands in the Old Testament were about hygiene, about protecting people from bacteria and infections especially when they were very vulnerable because of bleeding. Other times, the washings were based on God given directives, and were a religious practice. Some theologians will argue for hours about which is which, using terms like ceremonial law, versus covenant law, versus health law.

In our passage today though, the word used all but one time for wash – is definitely washing from a religious perspective – the root word is the very word we get baptism from!

The Pharisees and scribes saw all these Old Testament washing as religious, and added some. There were laws about symbolically washing cups, and pitchers, and kettles and while it says dining couches, the word in greek is kliner – like recliner! That one actually does have some Old Testament backing – for if someone who had a bleeding issue sat on your couch, you were supposed to baptize it!

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