Monday, August 24, 2009

Initial thoughts on Mark 7 for Sunday

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

The sermon on Sunday could be titled 'Faithfulness to God', or 'Lip service vs Heart Service' or 'Going Through the Motions' or something similar. The core of what I will be saying on Sunday is about how we take what Jesus teaches seriously - to heart, to head, to hands indeed into our whole lives.

Jesus is out in the countryside teaching the crowd and his disciples and teachers of the law come from Jerusalem to find him. Why did they go out there? To try to discredit Jesus? To sus him out? They notice that the disciples are eating with unclean hands.

The disciples are not in breach of the Law by not washing, but they are breaking with tradition. The fact that Mark has the little aside, and that he records the Pharisees talking about the tradition of the elders, might mean that Mark was writing and Jesus was speaking to a crowd that was largely made up of non Jews who will have needed the explanation. Perhaps that is why the Pharisees were there - they had heard that Jesus was teaching Gentiles as well as Jews.

Jesus sidesteps the question about breaking of tradition and instead, he sees really where the Pharisees are at. To Jesus it felt like the importance of the traditions of the Law had become more important than the Law - spirit and letter - itself. Jesus quotes Isaiah from memory and accuses the Pharisees of teaching others to do as they do - honouring God with words and actions alone but not with holy lives.

Jesus goes on to rubbish the traditions associated with the keeping of the Law, by pointing out how obtuse some keeping of the commandments has become. Jesus refers back to where this discussion began - to ritual cleanliness. What makes someone ritually unclean, asks Jesus - what that person has touched? What they have eaten? What they have done or not done? No, what makes someone unclean, undesirable to God, is what drives the person from the inside of their being, from their heart, not from the exterior world.

Radical obedience is a phrase I have read and heard Christians use before. It sounds good but what does it mean. I have struggled to find a definition. I found this on another blog,

"... To me, radical obedience is obeying God when it doesn't make sense. Radical obedience is doing God's will when our own agenda makes more sense. Radical obedience is not only asking "What Would Jesus Do" but DOING what Jesus did. Radical obedience is denying my flesh while fulfilling God's purpose for me. Radical obedience is heeding the call of God when, by all appearances, it's out of the question. Radical obedience is not compromising even if it means losing friends. Radical obedience is venturing outside my comfort zone no matter how uncomfortable or unreasonable it feels.

Radical obedience demands I do whatever I do so that Christ might be glorified, so that He is the focus of my life, so people see Him and not me. Radical obedience demands I disregard those things which seem to be important to me so that Christ becomes of paramount importance to me..."

The discussion that Jesus had with the Pharisees begins with the washing of hands, and the implications of things that I have touched or not touched on my own spiritual wellbeing. I can see how this tradition began and it is a very 21st century one. In an age obsessed with swine-flu and antibacterial cleanliness how we use our hands is a physical and spiritual issue.

Jesus' challenge to us through this encounter is one that calls to a radical obedience. We live in a world that distances individuals from each other - swine flu aside - when did you last speak to someone rather than email them? When did you last hold someone by the hand and tell them that you love them? In contemporary culture we need to see each other less and less.

How I use my hands indeed my whole self is an act of radical obedience to the God who came to me first in the flesh, in Jesus. How I use my hands shows how my whole being is filled to overflowing with the God who made me.

As I prepare for Sunday I am left with some questions:

  • What does it mean for me to be really (radically) obedient to God in Christ?
  • Who or what are the Pharisees of our day?
  • What sort of Christianity are they teaching us to live out? What traditions are they asking us to keep?
  • How do we use our hands to come to God ourselves and bring others nearer his Kingdom?

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