Summary: Keeping tradition is a good thing, but not always. Some use it to put others down, or raise themselves up, either way it is bullying. How do we handle this? How did Jesus handle this?
This sermon was delivered to St Oswald’s, Maybole, Ayrshire, Scotland on the 2nd September 2012; St Oswald’s is a Scottish Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of Glasgow and Dumfries.
Prayer: In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit let these words speak for you, and let them meditate in our hearts to bring you honour; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Our readings for today’s sermon are taken from the Gospel of Mark Chapter 7 verses 1 to 8 and 14 to 15 and 21 to 23.
When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)
So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
In today's Gospel, Jesus is in Galilee. No surprise there, but what is different is that the Pharisees have made a great effort to travel all the way down from Jerusalem to visit him; … well not visit him per say; they want to sound him out; … they want something on him; … and they want him out of their way; … to support a conspiracy to kill him.
Mark 7:1 says: “Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault”. Straight away they find fault and although it does not say, they were happy about finding this fault.
As you know, I was a server in Holy Trinity in Ayr for years before I came here. Now after years of setting up the Communion table somebody came up to me, breathed very heavily, grabbed one of the chalices and turned it around about ninety degrees; and then walk off muttering.
My first reaction was, “what was that all about” but I went onto look at the chalice closely, I could see a very small cross, engraved on the base. I found out later that this small cross was supposed to face the congregation. Ok that was the protocol; but what annoyed, really annoyed me was that I was not setting up the communion table; I was clearing the communion tables and placing the elements on the credence table which were well out of the way and hidden from the congregation to whom this cross was to be pointing.
What a palaver, I was thinking “so what”, nobody can see it; not even me; and is this worth a falling out over. Fortunately nothing came of it, it but bothered me. Why would somebody get so upset over something so minor and trivial that no one would ever notice? I could only conclude that it mattered to them.
What I am getting at here is we are here to worship God, and God accepts us because of Jesus, and nothing else.
As I said, nothing came from it other than my curiosity; but I am sure you have all witnessed a fray or an argument or even a fight over something very trivial; something blown up well beyond all proportion.
I am sorry to say it has happened to me many times, and I am sure it will happen again; but what I have learned is not to look at the situation which is causing the trouble, but look to the person who is over reacting. Here lie’s the key. In this short passage, Jesus is giving us a lesson in social skills; and he spots the Pharisees straight away for what they are.