MARK 7:1-23 (NIV – UK)
That which defiles
1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the market-place they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’
6 He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” [Isaiah 29:13]
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’
9 And he continued, ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!10 For Moses said, “Honour your father and mother,” [Exodus 20:12; Deut. 5:16] and, “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.” [Exodus 21:17; Lev. 20:9] 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God) – 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.’
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.’
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 ‘Are you so dull?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
20 He went on: ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.’
‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’ Jesus uses those words of Isaiah to point to a serious flaw in the Pharisees view of religion. The Pharisees would say the right thing, they would follow the letter of the law, they would hold to traditions that had been passed down – but there was one huge problem – their hearts were actually far from God.
Jesus says: ‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions’ (v. 8). It is certainly a danger for us all – holding to the laws and traditions, yet keeping our hearts far from God. When we celebrate communion, do we do so because it is tradition, or because we want to come close to Jesus. When we use our liturgy on a Sunday, is the liturgy and end in itself are our hearts open to Jesus?
If we are to avoid being those who have ‘let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions’ then we must be aware – we must fix our eyes on Jesus – we must let go of any pride and stubbornness and give our hearts to him. What matters is where our heart is – it is perfectly possible to say the right things – but is our heart with Jesus?
Question: Can you think of any ways we can guard against becoming unhealthily attached to human tradition?