Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed hands. (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the
marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles [and beds].) So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy 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 as doctrines human precepts,’ You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” ~Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 (NABRE)
If you’ve read some of my previous blog posts you will realize that there seems to be one theme that I bring up a lot: the power you have over what you put out into the world. Perhaps that’s because it was a common theme with Jesus, too. He taught about love, charity, mercy and so many more ways to love one another. Growing up Jewish he knew that there were laws that the Pharisees held to be more powerful than the Word of God. If they were truly men of God then they would not only recognize that everything Jesus was teaching was filled with God, but also they wouldn’t have been so upset about what Jesus was doing. They really had a problem with this guy. I mean, who did he think he was?? God?? Only THEY could interpret and teach God’s law to others. They obviously weren’t listening very closely to what Jesus was saying.
You may wonder why I chose a picture of a kitten (unfortunately, not mine) to start this post. I think that if Jesus had led the Pharisees into a room full of kittens, they wouldn’t have been so grumpy about the disciples breaking their laws. Have you ever been in a room full of kittens? You can NOT walk out of there without a smile on your face. To have that little ball of fur purring and loving on you is one of the best feelings in the world. As you hold that kitten and it rubs its little face all over yours while it’s purring, your heart just about bursts with love. That’s how you defeat evil. There is no room in a kitten-filled heart for all of the nastiness that Jesus listed in today’s reading. Okay, so let’s say that you’re more of a dog person. I won’t be offended if you swap out a puppy for a kitten in this example. As long as your heart is bursting with love, that’s what I want you to think about.
The Pharisees are a good example of how people can start out with good intentions, and then before you know it they’ve veered off the path and are insisting that you follow them because they are the ones in charge. When Moses brought the 10 Commandments down from Mt Sinai I don’t recall any of them saying that you must wash your hands before eating, or wash anything else that might come into contact with your food before you eat it. From what I can recall from memory, most of it was about LOVE. Love God. Love your neighbor (don’t covet, steal, or murder). Love and honor your parents. There’s a lot of love in those ten laws. Unfortunately, at that time, the people had a hard time keeping just those ten! Then over a period of time the leaders started making up clauses and addendums to the laws that then also included these other behaviors that you couldn’t do. By the time Jesus comes along the Pharisees are more concerned over these imposed human-created laws than the original law of God. No longer is the faith about God, it’s about the constraints that have been imposed upon you.
That’s why Jesus was such a non-conformist. He worked on the Sabbath. He didn’t make his disciples wash their hands before eating. He even dared to heal people with all kinds of problems whenever he felt like it! What a rebel! He was breaking the law and thumbing his nose at the authorities. Except, what they didn’t understand, was that he was actually following the law of the ultimate Authority. The Author of all creation. That’s why it doesn’t matter what you ingest. If you have a clean heart and are spreading the love of God then you can eat with the dirtiest hands and God won’t strike you down. I mean, He really might think, “Geesh, your hands are nasty. A little water and soap wouldn’t hurt!” but he’s not going to condemn and judge you for it. As long as you are living a Jesus-centered and Christ-like life, you will be allowed into heaven with your dirty hands.