Jesus speaks out against laws and traditions that divide people.
He reinterprets and creates new laws and traditions that promote
positive social connections.
It’s been a while since we last studied Mark – since before the Advent season. And then there were people out and illnesses and such so that we didn’t return to it. We are finally back, though it looks like we will skip this next week again due to some people going out of town.
Mark chapter 7 is at the center of the unit that goes from chapter 6 to 8. Chapter 6 opened with Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth and his sending out of the apostles. This story was interrupted by the account of John the Baptist’s execution which asked the question, Who is Jesus? Upon their return the feeding of the five-thousand (in Jewish territory) occurs. Chapter 8 closes the unit with the feeding of the four-thousand (in Gentile territory) and Jesus asking his disciples, Who am I?
Chapter 7 in the center discusses traditions surrounding Jewish ritual purity and a story about Gentile woman. This entire unit serves to reveal what purity (or holiness) means and who is included in God’s kingdom.
We must be careful when reading today’s passage. It has sometimes been used to justify anti-Semitism, or at the very least denigrate Judaism. It has been used by “low-church” Christians to unfairly attack Christians who value and practice much more ritualized forms of Christianity. It has been used by one Christian group to criticize other groups who don’t belong for beliefs and practices that the first don’t believe or practice.
Here are some questions then that we ought to keep in mind as we study this text:
- Are all “traditions” bad? And what does Jesus/Mark mean by the term?
- What is Jesus/Mark attempting to communicate about purity and holiness?
- What did Jesus/Mark mean when he writes, “Thus he declared all foods clean” (v.19b)?
Some of the key points from the discussion are:
- Religious/theological context: The Jews (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Jesus, and more) were all invested in the proper interpretation of the Law/Torah and with purity/holiness. The point of contention between them all were the specifics of what it meant. This was an internal debate within Judaism. It was not a Christians vs. Jews debate about legalism/tradition vs. grace/salvation. Many Jews believed that a proper observance of the Law was a necessary prerequisite to the arrival of the Messiah. For a self-proclaimed rabbi (Jesus) to speak out against popular beliefs and observances about Law and tradition was unthinkable – it would have been seen as deliberately placing an obstacle to the Messiah’s arrival.
- The problem with the Pharisaic/scribal tradition was that they placed observance of the Law and traditions above promoting good social relationships. According to the scribal traditions, the plain-reading of the Law could be violated if a person could show that God could be reverenced, worshiped and honored more through ignoring the Law. What Jesus appears to be implying by his rebuttals is that one cannot honor God if human relationships suffer as a result of such “honoring.” Paul seems to follow this line of thought in Romans 13:8-10 when he writes that all the Law (including worship and honor of God) is fulfilled by promoting good human relationships (love).
- The Law of Moses encourages separation to attain purity/holiness. Jesus says that genuine purity and holiness comes from associating with the unclean and defiled; to encounter and touch them in order to transmit healing and holiness to the suffering and downtrodden. Relationships must never become slaves to rigid applications of laws and traditions. It is in this light that Jesus (Mark’s interpretation) dismisses Jewish food laws regarding the clean and unclean. As long as this law remains, the future of the Jesus movement will never go beyond Jews. As long as table-fellowship is segregated, the full picture of God’s inclusiveness will remain hidden. God’s holiness compelled him to become human, to take on defilement, in order that the defiled might become holy.
Though baptism has long been associated with cleansing and forgiveness of sin, it has for just as long been associated with the deeply unclean death of Jesus. When we are baptized, we are joined to Jesus’ death as well as his resurrection (Rom. 6:3–5). Thus, baptism does not remove us from the stains of the world, but joins us to blood, dirt, and anguish, and to all those whom the world regards as unclean.
 Feasting: Mark, location 7140.