Week 7: READ: Mark 7:1-23
As the next act begins, the mood has changed from the frenzy of the crowds wanting to touch Jesus as well as the throngs of people hauling their sick on mats so he could touch and heal them. This scene opens up with the religious leaders plotting against Jesus. They are lurking in the shadows, following from a distance but always keeping their eyes peeled for an opportunity to catch Jesus and his disciples doing something wrong. The fact is that both sides loved God but they approached faith from two different perspectives. The religious leaders felt that the law was given by God to Moses and it was to be obeyed out of respect for God. If we do this, we will live in accordance with the will of God. Jesus operated out of a belief that God created all people to love and know God. His work was one of compassion and inclusion. As a result he reached out to many who the religious community felt were living outside the law and outside of God.
The air is charged for more conflict. The pot stirred when the Pharisees catch some of the disciples eating without washing their hands. This is a code violation. It is time to challenge Jesus. The religious leaders challenged Jesus on what he is teaching his followers. Why are his followers ignoring the tradition of the elders and eating with unwashed hands?
In response, Jesus attacks the teaching of the religious leaders as he quotes the from prophet Isaiah chapter 29 which cuts to the core differentiating between matters of the heart which equates to authentic faith over and against vain worship. The prime focus of what Jesus is saying is directed at the vain worship of the Pharisees and scribes. It is they who have abandoned the law of Moses, in particular the fourth commandment to honor your parents. Because these religious leaders prefer to teach human precepts like the importance of washing hands before meals from the tradition of the elders, Jesus claims they are voiding the Word of God.
Jesus turns to the crowd and as he did when he was teaching the parables in Mark 4, he calls them to “Listen,” (v. 14). This is the same word he used to begin and end the parable of the sower in 4:3, 9. This is a call to pay attention so that they may understand (7:14). Unlike the Pharisees who are so concerned about how things appear on the outside, Jesus makes it clear that what matters is what is going on in the inside.
For example, the concern of the Pharisees is like the car owner who spends all amount of time washing and waxing the outside of the car, removing spots on the seats and the floor mats and even rubbing the dash board so it smells like Corinthian leather. When they drive by, they are looking good. Jesus, on the other hand, would be the car owner who lifts the hood and properly maintains the engine, paying attention to all of the levels, belts and filters. While looking good may draw the attention of the crowd, it is running smoothly that keeps you going from place to place.
Typical of the teaching section in Mark 4, Jesus takes his disciples aside to further explain his teaching. Hidden away in v. 19 is the radical teaching of Jesus that all food is now clean and can be eaten – even pork. All the provisions of the Old Testament about dietary restrictions are removed in this statement. This is the message that Peter received as well when he was praying and a sheet came down from heaven announcing that all food is acceptable to God in Acts 10. This leads to a further inclusion in Acts 10:34 that says that all people, not just Jews, are part of God’s mission and concern.
Jesus did not come for the sake of a religious show. What matters are the things of the heart, our attitude, character and consistent practice of the faith disciplines like prayer, meditation on God’s Word, serving others and communal worship of God. All of this is driven by our relationship with God, gratitude for who we are blessed to be in Christ Jesus as well as the opportunity to be part of God mission in this world. It is not about us or being seen by others but rather about God and being part of how God wants to bless this world.
Jesus came to change his followers from the inside out. He identifies that evil intent comes out of the heart. The list of evil is similar to the works of the flesh named by the Apostle Paul (Galatians 5:19-21). All of these works are self-centered. But rather we are to yield to the fruits of the Spirit (5:22-23). It comes about when we die to ourselves and rise anew trusting God in Christ. It all begins with me. When I die to murder, envy and slander, Christ raises me up to begin living in love, generosity, and truth. When I die to lust, fornication and adultery, Christ can raise me up to begin living in gratitude, encouragement and faithfulness. And when I die to pride, Christ can raise me up to begin living in humility which enables me to see that God loves all people and all people matter.
As this act comes to an end, Jesus’ purpose to make our life in him real and not just lip service is paramount. This implies that when we pray, it is about our attitude in the presence of God rather than the words spoken. The same truth applies to worship. When our attitude is open and we are seeking God’s presence, the form of worship is always less important than our hearts desire to unite with Christ in praise and thanksgiving.
Jill is a follower of Jesus. When you meet her, it is written all over her in real ways. There is nothing fake about her. Jill’s life is not perfect. She makes no bones about that. She has always been a servant leader in the church. Her gifts are kindness, attentiveness, faith and hospitality.
The wheels of her marriage started coming off when her two kids were in high school. Jill and her husband at the time were both very active in their church. They spent much time and money in marriage counseling and individual therapy. This helped to hold their marriage together until their kids were both in college. Most outsiders had no clue that there were problems because they kept that behind the doors of their home.
It takes two people to make a relationship work or fail. Both people contribute to problems and work together to address them. It cannot be said that Jill and her first husband did not try to make this relationship work. However, unfaithfulness can only be forgiven for so long. When it continues, decisions need to be made. Finally, Jill said that she could not remain in this marriage any longer. Very quietly the marriage came to an end.
Through it all, Jill remained an anchor in the church. She had learned through the witness of her parents who were devoted Christians that while involvement in church is important, the real road of faith happens in the home were you pray and meditate on the Word together. It is in the home where you learn to forgive and love each other. It is in the home where you process the challenges of living Christian at work, or school or in the neighborhood. Jill had good role models in her parents. The seeds of faith they planted in Jill grew and bore much fruit.
Jill and her ex did a good job of practicing faith in the home despite their problems as evidence by the faith lived out in their daughter and son and their families. Jill moved about fifteen years ago to live near her daughter and family in part because her daughter, now in her forties, battled cancer for twenty years. She has helped with her grandkids while her daughter has been ill due to chemotherapy. The road of faith does not prevent us from facing problems. Rather it equips us for handling them with greater grace and the confidence of knowing that Christ is with us in the midst of it.
What comes out from the center of Jill’s being is the character of Christ. If you needed someone to listen, Jill could do that well and offer prayer at its conclusion. As first time worshipers, you would see her genuine smile light up her face as she met you because she is actually glad to meet you.
What Jill is most famous for are her mouthwatering chocolate chip cookies that she generously shares with people. There are few things that taste so sweet than these just-out-of-the-oven cookies. Once you get on the list you may get a batch delivered to your home because you just had a baby, someone in your family just died, you are her neighbor, a co-worker, a first time worshiper. Jill single handedly has kept Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chips in business.
This is Jill. If you need prayer, she will follow though and you can feel her prayers. People who have gone through pain and had nowhere else to turn, learn how to pour out their prayes. Whether it was going through marriage problems and divorce or fighting for her daughter’s life in prayer, Jill values prayer.
The irony is that Jill is too humble to want to be acknowledged for her faith. Her response would be that she is nothing without her Lord. To God who loves all of us and the Lord Jesus Christ be all praise and honor and glory. Amen.
- Can you think of a time when you may have been going through the motions of faith without giving God much attention? If so, what may have caused you to find yourself more distant from God? What woke you up to the presence of God?
- We all wrestle with some works of the flesh that cling to us (See Galatians 5:19-21). What do you need to let go of and surrender to God?
- At the same time, God works to bear fruits of the Spirit within us. What fruit are you wanting more of in your life (See Galatians 5:22-23)?
- What did you find helpful in this study?