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Saturday, January 24, 2015

TOMS: Mark 7

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Jan. 23, 2007

Jesus was the ultimate iconoclast. I know that is an ironic statement, but it is true. He was not afraid to rock the boat, especially when it came to the stupid rules forced upon people by religious leaders. They came to Jesus, complaining that the disciples were not properly washing their hands. This ritual handwashing was a long process of turning the hands a certain way and then dumping water over them. This was not a sanitary washing, but a religious ceremony. Listen to Mark's statement about them: "For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches."(7:3-4) Mark was providing background to his mostly Gentile readers who would not be familiar with the Jews' rules.

Jesus blasted the Pharisees, saying, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"(7:6-7) The Pharisees certainly did not see this passage as a prophecy about them, but Jesus applied it to them anyway, with vehement force.

Many people of Jesus' day saw their salvation in observance of the dietary and washing rules. I don't have the quote in front of me, but a noted rabbi of the time said basically that salvation is found in handwashing. This is the kind of foolishness Jesus was attacking. Yes there were dietary restrictions in the Law of Moses, but they were never intended to provide favor with God. They were intended as a sign to the nations around them.

Then Jesus attacked the ultimate taboo: dietary laws. A lot of people do not realize the magnitude of what Jesus said here: "'Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?' (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, 'What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.'"(7:18-23) Mark's comment in parenthesis is critical and earth-shattering. Remember that even Peter in the book of Acts refused to eat unclean animals, yet Jesus said right here that all foods are clean, to a Jewish audience. Mark's comment was no doubt directed at his Gentile readers who might come under the influence of the judaizers, but it does not change the truth that Jesus declared the dietary laws null right then and there.

The other parts of this chapter we have discussed already when covered in Matthew.

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