“You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” – Mark 7:8 (NRSVUE)
In Mark 7:1-8, Jesus has a throwdown with a group of scribes and Pharisees about some religious and cultural rules the disciples are not following. Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, then delivers the verse above.
It’s a mic drop. The scribes and Pharisees have no immediate response. I can hear the rumble of approval from the disciples. I want to be with them. I want to be excited to read it every time I see this story. “Hey, hey, he told them!”
But this story is about the religious leaders observing that “some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is without washing them” (Mark 7:2). It bugs me, because handwashing feels so obviously necessary. Didn’t my mother teach me to wash my hands before I ate? Didn’t we spend most of 2020 singing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing ours? Or asking Alexa to set a timer for 20 seconds?
Jesus wants to draw the religious leaders’ attention to the bigger picture. They talk a lot about rules they find easy to follow while ignoring the ones that are deeper and more complicated, the essential commandments of God that require a change of heart and perspective.
It’s good that this story prickles me. It reminds me how easily I can get caught up in the wrong things and how quickly being caught up can cause us to do harm.
What are we holding onto that we need to release, to make space for what God wants from us and what God wants for the world?
Holy One, help me to be aware of my judgment of people who don’t do things the way I do them. Help me to change. Amen.
Martha Spong is a UCC pastor, a clergy coach, and editor of The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle, from The Pilgrim Press.