Monday, February 8 Mark 7:1-8
“They teach man-made ideas as commands from God”
Annoyed Pharisees and teachers of the law, who regard themselves as the keepers of the traditions, clash with Jesus by publicly protesting the glaring failure of his disciples to observe the rules about unclean hands. Mark explains that “unclean hands” refers to “unwashed hands” and inserts a parenthetical explanation about Jewish ritual washings for readers unfamiliar with these customs. If Jesus undermines this tradition of ritual cleansing, he is redefining how an “unclean” person is able to be in right relationship with God.
Jesus does not try to justify or explain his disciples’ behavior but challenges his opponents instead. He says that Isaiah prophesied concerning them that they are nothing but hypocrites, who cleverly swap their own words for God’s commands. Understanding that the Pharisees are trying to shame him publicly helps us to see that Jesus does not simply evade the issue but regains command of the situation. He exposes their rigid and superficial religiosity as something that permits one to transgress the direct commands of God.
By knowing Scripture, Lord, I can discern what is from you and what is not. Amen.
Tuesday, February 9 Mark 7:9-13
“For instance . . .”
Jesus cites an example to show how the tradition of the elders sanctions the subversion of God’s will. God commands children to honor their parents, and in Jewish culture that entails more than showing them respect. It also requires providing them with physical necessities. In the case example, the Pharisees would allow a son to duck that responsibility by informing his parents that what support they might expect from him he has declared “Corban,” dedicated to God, and therefore it cannot be used to help them.
Jesus condemns the Pharisees for their false doctrine, inasmuch as by their traditions they have destroyed the commandment which requires children to honor their father and mother, teaching them to find excuse from helping their parents by pronouncing “Corban” over their goods. Jesus exposes these sticklers for the law as more interested in legal niceties than the requirement of love, more devoted to unwritten traditions than the written law, and more concerned with material possessions than care of one’s parents.
Teach me, Lord, how not to put anything ahead of love. Amen.
Wednesday, February 10 Mark 7:14-15
“What defiles a person?”
Jesus gives the Pharisees no direct answer to their question about why his disciples eat with unclean hands. The explanation comes only in a general announcement to the crowd which goes beyond the issue raised by the Pharisees. The Pharisees did not ask about unclean foods, only about unclean hands, but Jesus addresses the issue of unclean food when he says, “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you.” One can only infer from Jesus’ response that he rejects the Pharisees’ opinion that unclean hands defile food, making the food unclean, and that unclean food defiles the body, making the body unclean.
While the Pharisees are concerned about surface impurity and piety, Jesus is concerned about internal impurity that one cannot wash away by washing the hands or being sure to eat only food that is clean. They do not understand that true holiness that imitates God and opens one up to God is something internal. It is a pure heart created by God that is pleasing to God, and an impure heart can only become pure by seeking God’s forgiveness.
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Amen.
Thursday, February 11 Mark 7:17-23
“Don’t you understand either?”
Jesus’ straightforward announcement to the crowds puzzles the disciples, and they ask him about what they think is a parable. Jesus expresses his dismay when he responds, “Don’t you understand either?” He takes for granted that the crowd has not grasped the implication of his pronouncement but assumes the disciples possess some token of understanding. And while they might understand at a surface level that what enters a person from the outside does not make him or her unclean, they cannot carry this knowledge through to its logical conclusion, for it requires a radical change in their whole outlook as Jews.
Jesus does not disown his dense disciples but follows his pattern of providing them with a further explanation when they do not understand. He illustrates his point by reminding them of what happens to food when it is consumed. In order to make the heart of a person unclean before God, the unclean food would have to come into contact with the heart which, of course, it doesn’t. What it does do is pass through the digestive tract and wind up in the latrine.
Thank you for teaching me, Lord, when I don’t understand. Amen.
Friday, February 12 Mark 7:24-30
“Jesus left Galilee”
To the best of our knowledge, Jesus journeys beyond the borders of Israel only once, leaving Galilee and journeying north into foreign territory. Three reasons probably prompt Jesus to make the trip. One, seeking a place of rest, he knows that the Jewish crowds will not follow him. Two, having had several confrontations with the Pharisees, they will not enter the region to continue their quarrels with him. Three, by walking across the border into the land of the Gentiles, Jesus symbolically breaks down the barrier which keeps the Gospel from non-Jews.
In the land of the Gentiles he meets a Greek woman. Desperate and determined, she asks Jesus if he will come to her home and heal her daughter. Whether testing her courage or her faith, he puts her down gently but firmly. In his mind, the Jews come first, but not to the exclusion of the Gentiles. It is all a matter of timing. In response, the woman makes the point that while it is proper for the children (Israelites) to eat first, when they do so there are those (Gentiles) who can benefit from the crumbs. Appreciating her wise response, Jesus grants her request.
We praise you, Lord, for including us Gentiles in your plan of salvation. Amen.
Saturday, February 13 Mark 7:31-37
As Jesus travels through territory on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, a crowd brings a deaf and speechless man to him and begs him to place his hands on him. Jesus does not intend for his healing activity to become a spectator event and ushers the man away from the crowd. In healing this man Jesus uses a sequence of actions, not just the spoken word. He begins by putting his fingers in the man’s ears, symbolic of opening them. Next, he spits and touches the man’s tongue, symbolic of loosening his tongue. Then he looks up to heaven, the source of his power, and sighs deeply, a gesture of prayer.
When the people exult over Jesus, their words echo scripture. “Everything he does is wonderful” echoes the words of creation from Genesis where “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” “He makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak” echoes Isaiah who promised that God will remedy the physical and spiritual disabilities of his people. In Jesus, God’s promised renewal has begun.
The time has come, Lord, and you have brought the Kingdom near to us. Amen.