Tony's Reflection 63 

 

 Are you still washing your hands whenever you come home? Using hand sanitiser whenever you go into a building?

Before the vaccinations were invented, hand washing was one of the few things we could do to try and stop us catching Covid, or passing it on. If ever we forgot, we would remind ourselves that there was a pandemic out there and people were dying. Being clean took on an importance we could never have dreamed of.

Washing had to be meticulous. Not just a squirt of soap and a quick dip in water. A full 20 seconds of rubbing with plenty of lather. The shopping had the same treatment. That virus would not pass into our houses, if we could help it.

Our meticulousness in hand washing and earnestness about “keeping clean” give us a little window of understanding to look into what would otherwise be a rather strange episode from
Mark (7:1-13).

Remember how thorough we were about cleanliness, back when there was no vaccine to keep us safe? How compulsively we washed and cleaned at even the faintest whiff of threat? Take that and magnify it hundred times over and you are coming close to the attitude of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day about keeping clean. Except it wasn’t a virus they were concerned about… they had cleanness of a different sort on their minds.

Back in the Old Testament, God had given his people commands about staying “clean”. This wasn’t a question of avoiding being physically grubby, or using soap.

God is absolutely pure. He is clean and free of contamination of any sort. There is nothing evil in him. He is perfect radiant light. No darkness. All good.

If we want to be close to him, we have to be like him. We have to do our best to be “clean” - not clean as in soaped and scrubbed, but keeping ourselves separate from anything which might defile us.

Back in the Old Testament, God gave his people endless lists of things which might defile them. They ranged from touching a dead body, to eating pork. How might these things defile them? For the most part, God didn’t say. He just said they would. The people were expected to take him at his word and avoid those things.

“You have to avoid certain things, because they are bad and you know they are bad because God says so.” God spent 1500 years of Old Testament history drilling that basic lesson into his people. It took that long for them to get the point, before they were ready for the more advanced truths behind that lesson.

Mark is about to show us how Jesus revealed to them what all those rules about cleanness really meant - but that is not until next week’s episode!

For now, Mark does some scene setting, so we are ready for the revolution Jesus is about to declare, as he brings the next big lesson in staying “clean”.

Back to the Pharisees. They were fanatical about keeping clean. They had the same sort of seriousness the most diligent hand washer has about coronavirus, except what they were afraid of was being defiled by breaking those Old Testament rules. In fact, they were so keen, they were even stricter than the Old Testament itself and made up loads of extra rules, to keep everyone clean.

They would wash their hands, some of them insisting you had to go right up to the elbows, just in case they had touched anything unclean. They were afraid the tiniest microscopic remains of something unclean could get into their mouths and defile them. The Old Testament didn’t tell you to do this, but if you really were serious about staying clean, well of course you would do this, wouldn’t you?

The common people looked at the Pharisees with awe. They might not go that far themselves to stay “clean”, but they admired and deeply respected those who did.

The Pharisees and those who taught the Old Testament rules in Jerusalem were the strictest of the strict. They had heard Jesus didn’t make his disciples wash their hands before they ate. They had come all the way from Jerusalem to sort him out. These theological hitmen had Jesus in their sights and they couldn’t wait to pull the trigger.

“Why don’t you keep these extra rules?” they ask Jesus. “Surely you are serious about keeping clean for God, aren’t you?”

The trigger has been pulled. The bullet is flying straight at Jesus’ head. Jesus, though, has a knack of avoiding even the best aimed shot.

As usual, he goes straight to the heart of the issue.

“You’re a load of hypocrites,” he says. “You’re quite happy to set aside what God says, just to follow your own extra rules. What does God say? He says “honour your father and your mother”. But you have a fine way of getting around that one, with all your own extra rules…”

And Jesus goes on to give chapter and verse of just how they do that. For Jesus, the root of all these Old Testament laws was, “God says it, you take him at his word.” You take his word in, let it live inside you and you are changed. That is what those rules were all about and aimed at teaching us.

How do we know what God says? Jesus says the Bible is what he has spoken to us. It is God’s message to us. That message isn’t about weighing us down with rule after rule. It’s exciting, vibrant, life-changing. Mark is showing us how Jesus brought that wonderful message, in all he said and all he did. The miracles. The parables. His teaching. All that was his message back then. We get that message in the Bible.

The Bible is spoken to us directly from God. You can’t add to it as the Pharisees did. You can’t take from it, either. When God speaks, we listen, bow down take him at his word … and are changed.
signed Tony