“From Within”

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

August 29, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

| Centering Prayer |

By the seventh chapter of Mark

Jesus had become a very popular itinerant

Preacher, teacher, healer, and exorcist

Traveling throughout the region of Galilee

Visiting both Jewish and non-Jewish, Gentile villages and towns.

In today’s Gospel passage

Jesus is speaking to three different audiences,

Offering us insights, truth, and direction in each.

First, Jesus is speaking to Pharisees and scribes,

Religious authorities,

Who had traveled from Jerusalem

… about 90 miles on foot …

(They really, really wanted an audience with Jesus).

They went to this effort to publicly question him about

Why he and his disciples failed to live according to the “tradition of the elders”.

The “tradition of the elders”.

They didn’t accuse Jesus of breaking the Law of Moses.

The “tradition of the elders” was written down over a three-hundred-year period

Dating from the third to sixth centuries before Christ.

It is called the Talmud,

A process of analyzing the Law of Moses,

Commenting on it,

Expanding it,

Even, commenting on prior comments about the Law.

The Pharisees, scribes, and Jewish leaders of the time insisted on

Very strict conformity to the Law of Moses and Talmud.

Jesus was being accused of breaking the Talmud rules about cleanliness.

Cleanliness.

Who is clean and who is unclean?

What makes one clean and unclean?

What are the consequences of becoming unclean?

If one is unclean, how to they become clean again?

Legalism.

Ritualism.

Rigid adherence to authority.

Jesus responds to their question with a quote from Isaiah,

Calling them hypocrites:

“This people honors me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

– Isaiah 29:13

Jesus rejects religious legalism, and

So, too, should we.

Jesus correctly observes that preaching, teaching, and practicing rigid legalism

Drives the hearts of people away from God.  

An insistence on strict legalism makes a hypocrite

Out of its most sincere, conservative advocates.

Faith withers under the weight of Law and threat of punishment.

Jesus has a different way.

Jesus demonstrates that faith flourishes in an environment of grace.

If given a choice between Law and Grace.

Choose Grace.

Grace is the way of Jesus and

Grace should be our way, too.

The second audience Jesus is addressing

Is the crowd gathered around.

The only thing that defiles an individual

Is not from the outside,

But from the human heart,

Jesus teaches them.

The human heart,

The center of life, soul, and spirit,

Is vulnerable to persuasions of both good and evil.

Love is the virtue the apostle Paul observed

When the heart is flooded by the grace of God.

The heart is drawn closer to God.

The heart is at peace.

In a similar but opposite manor,

When persuaded by evil intentions,

The heart is driven away from God.

The heart is at war.

A heart at war

Is evident in the laundry list of evil behaviors which Jesus cites.

Some forms of self-defilement may be easily understood.

But, if you are like me, some need a little more explanation.

These are signs of a heart at war,

Behaviors of a person defiling themselves:

  • Fornication: sexual intercourse between people not married to each other.
  • Theft: the act or crime of stealing, taking something that doesn’t belong to you.
  • Murder: the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.
  • Adultery: voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse.
  • Avarice: extreme greed for wealth or material gain.
  • Wickedness: the quality of being evil or morally wrong.
  • Deceit: the action or practice of deceiving someone by concealing or misrepresenting the truth.
  • Licentiousness: promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters.
  • Envy: a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.
  • Slander: the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.
  • Pride: a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievement, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.
  • Folly: lack of good sense; foolishness.

(all definitions obtained by Google dictionary searches)

I list these definitions,

Not for the legalistic condemnation of others,

But for spiritual self-examination and improvement.

this appears to be the intent of Jesus.

Ask yourself,

“Do any of these evil behaviors identified by Jesus

Describe me?”

“If so, what am I going to do about it?”

“What can I do to stop my self-defilement and come clean?”

If these acts of defilement are not you,

Be aware.

Watch and listen

For the first signs of pending danger.

Awareness is essential to identify temptation and evil when present;

Awareness is helpful for setting appropriate boundaries

For individual and community behavior

Without being legalistic.

Absence of evil behaviors

Reveals a heart at peace,

A heart that is clean,

A heart being drawn ever closer to God.

The third audience Jesus is addressing

Are his current and future disciples,

Some who would be coming from a Jewish background,

Others coming from a Gentile background.

A Gentile is a person who is not Jewish.

They would not know Jewish history, law, or customs.

For Jesus

This would include new disciples

Who had previously believed in Greek or Roman gods.

This might include new followers of Jesus

Who had previously worshipped the Egyptian emperor or king.

The Pharisees and some of the scribes from Jerusalem

Criticized Jesus’ disciples,

“Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (7:5)

Jesus defense is

Similar to the condition of the early church,

Accused from synagogue and Temple

That Christians violated tradition

And misinterpret Scripture.

(Thanks to Preaching the New Common Lectionary, Year B, After Pentecost, by Craddock, Hayes, Holladay, Tucker. 1985)

Some of the Disciples,

Most certainly those following Jesus

But coming from a Gentile background,

Simply were not informed of the rules

About eating with defiled hands. 

Would formerly Gentile disciples of Jesus

Be expected to follow Jewish Law and the Talmud?

Once Jesus ascended and the first century Church began to form

Would Christians of Gentile background be expected to follow Jewish Law and the teachings of the Talmud?

How about former Jews who now followed Jesus?

Early Church fathers and mothers

Met to hash out the rules.

It has played out in our Bible.

We follow Old Testament Law and remain faithful to God’s covenants.

But the Talmud is not included;

Instead we have the apostolic letters of the New Testament.

In between the Old and New Testaments

Is the heart of our faith:

The Good News,

The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Early Church fathers and mothers,

Filled by the Holy Spirit,

Worked to create the Christian Church

Replicating the virtue, teaching, and characteristics of Jesus.

Love.

Grace.

Forgiveness.

Salvation.

This is the Christian experience of a pure heart,

A heart at peace and in love with God.

The Apostle Paul made his own laundry list

In his fifth chapter of his letter to the Galatians.

He calls his list the “Fruit of the Holy Spirit”.

  • Love: an undefeatable benevolence and unconquerable goodwill that always seeks the highest good for others, no matter their behavior.
  • Joy: deeper than mere happiness; it is rooted in God and comes from Him.
  • Peace: wholeness, completeness, or tranquility in the soul that is unaffected by the outward circumstances or pressures.
  • Patience: lenience, forbearance, fortitude, patient endurance, longsuffering.
  • Kindness: goodness in action, sweetness of disposition, gentleness in dealing with others, benevolence, kindness, affability.
  • Goodness: the state or quality of being good; moral excellence; virtue; kindness, generosity, character recognized in quality or conduct.
  • Faithfulness: objectively trustworthy, believing, believer, faithful, sure, true.
  • Gentleness: a disposition that is even-tempered, tranquil, balanced in spirit, unpretentious, that has passion under control.
  • Self-Control: strong, having mastery, able to control one’s thoughts and actions.

(Galatians 5:22-23)

(Definitions as found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit_of_the_Holy_Spirit)

What comes from within

Defines or defiles the heart,

Keeps it clean or make one unclean,

Is a heart at peace or a heart at war,

Is a soul approaching Jesus or a soul walking away.

Beloved,

May your heart define you

And your God given values.

Keep it clean.

Be at peace.

Stay in love with Jesus.

Amen.

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