Summary: Christians can't settle for lives whitewashed on the outside--looking good. Our lives need to be inwardly transformed.
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 “Whitewashed”
Most of us spend a fair amount of time making ourselves look good on the outside. Here, in Arizona, we may not be into suits and ties for men, or business attire for women. We may not live the credo, “dress for success.” Still, we do want to look nice, wear clothes that are not torn or frayed, and be inoffensive to those around us. Appearance counts.
As Christians—disciples of Christ—we want to look good, also. We desire to live lives that honor God. In our gospel lesson today, Jesus shows us a path to this goal that does not include the companionship of Mary Kay and Calvin Klein.
MARKS OF CHRISTIANITY
The Pharisees are usually viewed as simply majoring in minutiae. But that does a disservice to them and obscures the issues. Scholars today suggest that the Pharisees should be understood as a reform movement within Jewish life of the first century. Their goal was to help ordinary people become more observant of the law (both written and oral) as a way of affirming or reinforcing their Jewish identity. For this religious minority living in an occupied territory of the Roman Empire and in the diverse culture of the Mediterranean world, a critical problem was how to keep faith and traditions alive and vibrant.
What does it look like to be a Christian in the 21st century?
Some branches of Christianity say that we as followers of God we need to clean up our lives and smoke, drink, dance or gamble. Others believe one needs to avoid caffeine, not curse, and tithe your income to the church. Still others are expected to vote a certain way, home school your children, or believe a certain way on abortion, immigration, evolution, school prayer, and gay rights.
Jesus points out that all of these practices come up short. Not only is there a great deal of disagreement on what does and does not define a Christian, but these outward props don’t accomplish what needs to be done.
IT’S THE INSIDE THAT COUNTS
Something happened to the Pharisees good intentions of striving to be holy. It turned out that they were honoring God with their lips, but their hearts were far from God. Sometimes we reflect this reality. When we are good Christians, it is easy for us to develop a self-righteous, superior, judgmental attitude and demeanor.
Jesus points out why this happens. In verse 15, he says, “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” In other words, the problem is our heart.
We confess this every Sunday when we say, “We confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We call it original sin. Selfishness and rebellion are in our DNA. This sinfulness and evil are not the way of the Lord.
Many chose to ignore the shadows or dark side of their lives. They deny the urges and desires that stir within them. To do so usually means that at some time or other the darkness will slip out and express itself.
We can’t change ourselves. We can’t be well behaved and expect for it to seep into our hearts. We can only rely upon God’s love, forgiveness and grace. It is the movement of the Holy Spirit that changes us from the inside out.
NEW LIFE EVERYDAY
Things are not hopeless. God can change us even though we can’t. Martin Luther would tell us to live in our baptism. Every day through confession and repentance the Old Adam (who desires to live in rebellion against God) is drowned, so that the New Adam can be raised up and in with God in righteousness and purity forever.
The change in our hearts enables us to live out our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ by loving God with all of our heart, soul, will and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. It is not necessarily pious actions that are the marks of a Christian, but rather a life that is centered in Jesus and in service toward others.
Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be merely whitewashed. He wants us to be transformed and empowered.