Today’s passage is an interesting read in the midst of a pandemic. I don’t know about you, but hand-washing has become almost an obsession with me since this whole thing began. In a ‘Romans 8:28 way’, where God can use ALL things for our good, our nation’s practice of being more fastidious about washing our hands has been a small positive coming out of a plethora of negatives.
It is also interesting to think about some of the modifications we have made along the way in this world-wide health crisis. Remember back in the beginning when we shopped for groceries in sweaty gloves and came home and bleached our purchases before putting them away? I was grateful when science discovered that this horrific virus is airborne and we could relax just a tiny bit about contacting the germs by touching objects.
So as you read the following, try to dismiss your pandemic-cautions and go back to a time when hand-washing wasn’t as life or death as it feels right now. It is also very important to notice how
The Message emphasizes “ritual hand-washing.” We are meant to understand that the practice of the Pharisees had nothing to do with hygiene, and everything to do with keeping up appearances:
Mark 7 (The Message)
7 1-4 The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around him. They noticed that some of his disciples weren’t being careful with ritual washings before meals. The Pharisees—Jews in general, in fact—would never eat a meal without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, with an especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market (to say nothing of the scourings they’d give jugs and pots and pans).
Friends, this may be the first and only time in my life that I could relate to the practices of the Pharisees! Scour away, my brothers!
5 The Pharisees and religion scholars asked, “Why do your disciples brush off the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?”
6-8 Jesus answered, “Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull’s-eye in fact:
These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn’t in it.
They act like they are worshiping me,
but they don’t mean it.
They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy,
Ditching God’s command
and taking up the latest fads.”
Jesus, as was his way, immediately gets to the heart of the matter. He calls out the Pharisees for making a big show of maintaining the appearance of cleanliness when their hearts were rotten to the core. Their rituals were empty and meaningless, and worse yet, they were hiding behind their pious facades whilst undermining the very word of God. They taught whatever they wanted, ignored the commandments, and catered to the whims of what caught people’s attention in the moment.
This teaching stings. We need to critically evaluate our own rituals against this scripture and see if we as individuals, and we as the church, aren’t guilty of doing exactly the same thing. It is easy for me to see where the Creflo Dollars and the Joel Olsteens don’t measure up to Jesus’ teachings, with their multi-million dollar estates and private jets. But how about our local churches? How about you? How about me?
If we are “doing Christianity” just to get a check in the box and impress the members of the PTO with our piety, we are no better than the Pharisees. If church becomes just another country club to join for the status and the chance to rub elbows with the community big wigs, we, too, are guilty of making a big show of saying the right thing when our hearts aren’t in it.
Following Jesus is an active choice we make every day. It is a choice we make with our hearts, not our appearance. What’s in your heart?