Zion Lutheran Church, Warroad, MN
August 30, 2015
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, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and 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) 5So 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?’ 6[Jesus] 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;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition….’
14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’…21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
If this gospel reading strikes you as being all about tradition or personal hygiene—guess again.
Jesus isn’t merely tinkering with social mores or the intricacies of “keeping kosher.” Jesus, rather, is going to the heart of the matter!
And that’s why his sparring partners are so unnerved. Jesus is tampering with their moral universe—dismantling their most cherished, time-honored assumptions about good and evil and how the world is ordered.
Jesus’ opponents attack him indirectly at first: “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”
The first thing we need to get straight is that the scribes and Pharisees were not the public health department. They knew nothing of modern germ theory.
No. What the scribes and Pharisees imagined to be in jeopardy was the way the whole universe was put together. And what is the place of human beings in the whole cosmic order?
You see, in the universe that the scribes and Pharisees cared about, evil was primarily an “out there” problem.
God’s chosen people had been set apart, made holy by God. But they believed they lived in a dangerous, defiling world. There were all sorts of things and persons and realities “out there” that could invade their neatly ordered lives. These primarily external threats had to be guarded against at all costs.
So, to preserve the holiness—the set-apartness--of God’s people, the guardians of the Jewish social order had drawn up a raft of fine-print interpretations of God’s commandments, called “the tradition of the elders” here in our text: all the dietary regulations, ritual washings, kosher food rules that eventually were codified in the 500 volumes of the Talmud.
This whole well-ordered universe was what Jesus and his followers were threatening, by their cavalier approach to the most elementary of rules and regulations:
· How they conducted themselves.
· How they performed (or failed to perform) the prescribed ritual washings.
· When, where, how and with whom they prepared and ate their food.You name it.
“Why do your disciples,” Jesus!—“why don’t they live according to the tradition of the elders?”
That’s the kind of question that comes from folks whose carefully-crafted universe is starting to crumble.
We know that feeling. We often imagine that evil is primarily “out there.”
Think of the things we tell our kids—warning them to avoid the “wrong crowd” at school, fretting over the ways the world might corrupt our children.
Many of us, especially those with gray hair or no hair, have witnessed over our lifetimes so many changes in how we view what’s right and wrong, what’s proper and improper, who’s “in” and who’s “out.”
In this episode from Jesus’ ministry, the focus was on something as basic as food, how we gain nourishment.
Nowadays, the focus often seems to be on things like so-called “diversity issues”—how people of so many different races, ethnicities, religions and sexual identities can live together peaceably on the same planet. Is it any wonder that we, too, sometimes wonder whether our own “moral universe” has been tipped upside down?
The Scribes and Pharisees in our gospel lesson were right to be concerned!
Because Jesus did, in fact, come to fiddle with, indeed to re-adjust their moral universe. Jesus came to reverse the flow of things—to disrupt the connection between what’s “out there” and what’s “in here.”
The scribes and Pharisees seemed fixated on evil being an enemy “out there,” an enemy to be kept at bay, warded off, in order to maintain our God-given holiness.
But Jesus pointed out that the worst, most damaging manifestations of evil aren’t “out there” somewhere.
They’re “in here!” Evil is an “inside job.” Evil works on us from the inside out—not primarily from the outside in. Evil always aims for the heart of things—zeroes in on our hearts! Evil is always seeking to reside in the center of our lives—and from that command center, evil does its worst. There’s nothing evil out there that can get us, unless the rot has already begun deep inside of us, taking over the core, the heart of our very being.
So rather than making nice with the scribes and Pharisees--rather than engaging in a little “yeah, ain’t it awful?” game with them, Jesus turned the tables, reversed all the arrows, and proposed a positively revolutionary revision in how they—and we—look at our moral and spiritual universe.
“Listen to me, all of you, and understand,” warned Jesus. “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
Jesus, as usual, gets to the heart of the matter—he aims his arrow for the vital spot, the center inside us ALL, the human heart. The old prophet Isaiah had it right all along: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me….”
Their hearts! That’s what Jesus places in the forefront of our universe. It’s the heart that Jesus zeroes in on. For the heart is where evil always strives for a foothold. From the inside, from the heart, comes all the crud and corruption—all the warped behavior, boozing, pilfering, cheapening life, hatching schemes to get what doesn’t belong to us, pining away for the greener grass on the other side of the fence--you name it!
The church has a name for all that—we call it original sin—the sin that none of us had to be taught! Even darling infants, even precious little children—pick up this “original sin thing” all on their own.
My wife and I became grandparents for the first time in 2013. Our darling grand-daughter is the apple of our eyes. But now that she is 2 years old, we notice that she’s developing a mind of her own. She leads with the word “No!” She cooks up naughty things to do—and no one seems to have taught her that.
No human being is exempt from original sin—certainly not in the church. All of us—old and young, liberal and conservative, fighters and pacifists, gay and straight and everyone in between—we’re all 100% sinners, we’ve all got that deadly “heart disease.”
But thanks be to God--it’s our hearts that Jesus has come to heal. It’s our core sin that Jesus has come to forgive. It’s the core of who we are that Jesus goes after—it’s the heart that Jesus comes to make new, even as God in Christ is making all things new!
The scribes’ and Pharisees’ Achilles heel as they constructed their image of the universe was that it left everything at a skin-deep level. Do the right things, go through the right motions, keep up the right appearances--and evil will be kept at bay.
Wrong! Jesus calls that’s hypocrisy—“play acting!” Evil has always tried to insinuate itself deeply in our lives. It’s been an “inside job” all along.
….which is why Jesus always, always, always aims at our hearts. Jesus goes after our center—the core of who we are. Jesus means to capture that. Jesus means to take over our lives, from the inside out.
Let me put it this way. Jesus isn’t much of a dermatologist. But he’s a heckuva heart surgeon—and his specialty is heart transplants, or more accurately, creating new hearts within us all..
This is no skin-deep, surface-level stuff. It’s an inside job that Jesus does on us. The baptismal water seeps through our pores, the bread and wine of his Supper are made for our stomachs, the Word of forgiveness is designed to rattle our eardrums and resonate deep within our souls. Jesus bores right down to our very heart and soul, fixing us all up—from the inside out.
Pastor Krehl, as you take up your calling here at Zion, please remember that you answer not to a dermatologist but to a cardiologist—Jesus Christ the great healer of broken hearts, the wondrous creator of new hearts in all who belong to him.
And never forget how God’s universe really works—from the inside out. That’s how God’s mission in the world also operates—from the inside out, from the inside of congregations like Zion, to the outside—to the mission field that surrounds you here in Warroad….a mission field that you are so well poised to embrace anew as you welcome a new pastor, as you proceed with building a new mission center, a new church to serve you and your neighbors in this community.
From the inside out: That’s how the Jesus Way operates—reclaiming us and all things, starting with what’s at the center, starting with our soiled, broken hearts—hearts that are always being made brand new in the image of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.