Tonight at small group, we continued our Lent Course – being a part of the Big Read 2012, going through Mark’s Gospel. Tonight found us at Mark 7:1-13, which gives us insight into Jesus’ teaching on being clean before God as well as various other things. Throughout the discussion, we talked and chatted about many things, but the one prevailing theme that kept coming up was that of identity.
Here’s the passage:
1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Jesus is quite keen on identity in this passage. Sure, he was keen on telling the Jews where they had gone wrong, but what was it about them that had gone wrong? The hint is in verse 8: You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.
For us, the commands of God were those instructions and insights about God that gave them the identity of Yahweh’s children; loved by him and kept for eternity in him.
Instead, it seems as though the Jews have traded that identity for their own: based on human tradition and merely being a ‘Jew’ without that core thread of Yahweh in it.
I guess we can venture in all sorts of directions here; think about nominal Christianity, being a cultural Anglican or whatever.
But that leads us to another question: should we be concerned about our identities as ‘Anglican’ ‘Methodist’ ‘Evangelical’ ‘Charismatic’ or something else? Whenever I plan a service with my boss/Vicar, we always ask whether it is ‘Anglican’ enough, especially if it is a special service like Christmas, because we are especially concerned for our guests.
Is this the right question to be asking? It seems to me that at times, when we ask questions such as these, we are only doing the same question asking as the Pharisees did back in Mark 7 where Jesus rebuked them.
“Are we Jewish enough?”
Jesus replies – “That’s not the question to be asking!”
What truly matters is whether we identify ourselves with Yahweh – Jesus. Because depending on who or what we identify in or find our identity in will determine the produce that comes out of us (Verses 19-23).
Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre.
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