Summary: In a culture obsessed with diets it seems that everyone’s obsessed with what goes inside because it effects how we look on the outside. The Pharisees weren’t much different. But Jesus said it’s what’s on the inside that counts!
Mark 7:1-8; 14-23
Move 1 – Swallowed Penny Story - I’ll never forget it. I might have been eight years old when one day my parents told us to sit still while they ran into the store to grab something. The same guidelines always applied when we were told to remain in the van: we were to keep our seatbelts on and remain seated. But they never told us how we were to entertain ourselves. So being the resourceful young man that I was I had a penny in my pocket and for some reason, unbeknownst to me today I put that penny in my mouth and was moving it around with my tongue until the unthinkable happened: you guessed it – I swallowed it! That’s right it went down so quickly and smoothly that there was no way of stopping it. I panicked! What would happen to me? Here was the piece of medal which was now lodged in my stomach. Would I have to be opened up and have the coin removed? Would I vomit? Would the medal poison me? Would I get very ill or worse yet would I die? Afraid that my parents would be upset I chose not to say anything to them and instead awaited the impact of my mistake. I prayed that it would come out the same way the rest of my food came out. For days I watched, well you know what I watched… But there was no sign of the penny. What should I do? Would I have to go to the doctor? I could just imagine the doctor walking in with the X-ray film with a picture of that coin in my stomach. But as the days went on I finally decided that it must have been concealed and I was alright.
Move 2 – We’re Concerned with what goes in – Isn’t it amazing that we become so obsessed with what goes inside of us? I mean we live in a culture that is overtaken with diet plans. You’ve got the Zone and the Atkins and now the South Beach Diet. Everyone’s counting their calories! Everyone’s concerned with what goes into their mouths. That’s why McDonalds has recently introduced their line of salads so that you can eat healthy even on the run. We have become a society so concerned with how we look on the outside that we’re obsessed with what goes inside.
Move 3 – The Religious People of Jesus Day were Concerned with what went inside for different reasons - In today’s scripture reading we find a group of people who are extremely concerned with what goes inside of them, for different reasons than you and I. You see the religious people of Jesus’ day were very worried about what they ate and whether it was “clean” or “unclean” in the eyes of the Old Testament law. There were certain foods that were acceptable according to their tradition and others that were prohibited. For them it wasn’t an issue of cleanliness but rather one of being acceptable to God. They thought that by simply following the Old Testament regulations and codes that they would be pure or holy in God’s sight. And one way that they went about doing this was through a hand-washing ritual. They’d make sure that they had cleaned themselves so that they wouldn’t come in contact with the things which weren’t holy, or literally were common. They were certain that by remaining separate from the things of this world and by cleaning themselves whenever they came into contact with them, they were holy before God.
Move 4 – The Pharisee’s issue with Jesus – Here’s where our story begins today. The Pharisees and religious leaders had been trying to trap Jesus. They’d been trying to prove to the crowds that he wasn’t reputable. And they thought they had finally found some ground to stand on. One day they corner him and say to him, “Jesus, why don’t your disciples follow our customs and wash their hands before they eat?” They thought they had him, but listen to Jesus’ response. He refers to an authority which is greater than them, one they respect, the book of Isaiah in their Scriptures and says to them, “Isaiah was right about people like you when he said, ‘These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they’re worshiping God, but they don’t mean it. They just use God as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy.’” Jesus pulls the masks off of these people and says look at them, they’re fakes! These aren’t real God lovers. These people aren’t really interested in worshiping. Their hearts are in the wrong places.
Move 5 – What really makes you clean/unclean – Then Jesus turns to the crowd and says to them, “It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what comes out – that’s the real pollution.” His disciples are confused by this and when they return to the house they ask him to explain what he meant. “You don’t get it either,” he says, “Can’t you see that it’s not what you swallow that contaminates you? It doesn’t enter your heart but your stomach, works its way through your intestines and is finally deposited (according to the Greek) in the latrine!” These people were so obsessed with following the ancient customs and laws that they missed the point all together. These Jews were obsessed about showing the world how holy they were. They wanted everyone to know how dedicated they were to obeying these customs and laws. And Jesus says to them, your actions, what you do by cleaning your hands or my disciples’ failure to clean their hands has nothing to do with our conditions before God.