Only those who are pure should worship!
Readings: Mark 7, 1-8; 14-15; 21-23; Deuteronomy 4: 1-2; 6-9; James 1, 17-27
Purity and worship belong together as far as we can remember. Only those who are pure should worship. The confession of sin is still included and part of the liturgy at the beginning of our services.
But who is really pure? Today's readings mention different aspects. The most important are truth, justice and loving interaction with each other. In other words: a God pleasing life. Because: There is nothing that enters a person from the outside, and which could make him unclean; but that which comes out of the person, that is, what makes a person to be unclean. Today I would like to talk about this matter.
When I read about this discussion in our Gospel text, I got the idea that among the impurities, traditional habits are also included!! Not to wash the hands before eating is one of them. Do not wear jeans when you go to church on Sundays! Or even worse… the pastor wears jeans under his robe, or has tennis shoes on !! This does not belong to the old tradition. Must a bride always wear a veil? Can I go in shorts to the worship services?
In our Gospel text of today Jesus is dealing with the Pharisees. The Pharisees are not, as we sometimes think, villains. No, they were men to whom everyone in Israel looked up with very great respect. These were men who took it most seriously with the commandments, the teachings of God. If it was written in God’s laws and it was required to fast twice a week, then they would have voluntarily fasted three times a week. When it comes to the question to fulfill their religious duties, then there were no other Jews who were a better example and model as the Pharisees.
And then Jesus comes along and tells these exemplary Jews directly into their faces: “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.” (V.6)
It may well be, that you can honestly say: “I have never stolen anything”. But then ask again: how much envy and jealousy and greed is in your heart?” God is interested in knowing how things are inside.
Basically, I can understand the Pharisees very well, because humanity has always needed a clear orientation to fulfill their tasks. The human being has discovered possibilities and methods to achieve his goals. Look, if you buy anything, be it a simple device or a complex machine, it always comes with instructions how to use it. The same happens when you buy your medication. At the drugstore they always give you a paper with lots of explanations or description of the side effects. And in the spiritual or ecclesiastical sphere, it is the same thing, that every Christian has to follow a specific routine. Or, there is even an instruction booklet of how to go to heaven. And so it happened that people got the wrong ideas on how to live a Christian life. In this way, very easily, it comes to the idea of what you MAY and what you MUST NOT do! So as a Christian you cannot dance, you are not allowed to drink any alcoholic beverage, do not go to church wearing jeans. Women are not allowed to use make-up, have a short haircut and so on. Sundays it is a must to go to church.
In our today's text something similar happens. The Israelites followed the traditions that have been set by the scholars. And that was it!!! And when Jesus noticed the discomfort of the disciples that they had not washed their hands before eating, Jesus reacted as if that was not a problem: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines” (V6-7). Here is the main point of our text: he spiritual life is not lived by a code of behavior. It was never asked, at all, whether these traditions make sense or not. People simply did it this way.
Jesus Christ suggests here a new spiritual life, not with new laws or traditions, but a new relationship with God. Later Martin Luther sought for that too, when he reformed the Church in 1517. Jesus Christ proposes a new form of relationship with God. A relationship that is built on love, that goes out in searching for God's mercy. This is a proposal how we can see and experience God, and how we see ourselves and feel as God's children. This is the meaning of the Cross, to know that Christ because of His love for us, suffered for us.
Once, when we had 3 days in a row of worship services, namely during the Christmas time, an elderly person from the congregation asked at the exit of the first worship service, which fell on a Saturday: "Pastor, now we just had one service, so tell me, was this already valid as our Sunday duty? Or do we have to come back again tomorrow?"
Well, we cannot blame a person for that! We have all been brought up in this kind of thinking. But deep in my heart I hear the voice of God: “This people honors me only with their lips, with their hearts, they are far away from me.”
Or, imagine the following situation: A young man is totally in love with a young girl. This girl lives in a certain city, and he is serving in the army, in a different and distant city. On Saturdays he always comes home. And then the two of them go always out on Sundays. Every Sunday. It happened that once the young man had a few days off a little bit earlier. So, they decided to go out already on the Saturday, instead of only on the Sunday. But then, when he took his girlfriend back to her home, and gave her a goodnight kiss, he asked her: "Hey, you think I have to come back again tomorrow? Or does this count already as the Sunday obligation?"
Yes, you smile, that's right. But that is just how we push God away! There is a God who loves us beyond all measure, and who just wants to see our reciprocal love. And we push him away with our traditions, with our "Do not do this or that", with our external habits. ”These people,” says Isaiah, and Jesus says, "honors me only with their lips, with their hearts, they are far away from me.”
Let us not forget what Jesus proposes here: that each of us may discover God behind every law, rule or tradition. God wants from us more than simple obedience to tradition. He wants a heart with love from us. He wants us to turn back, to change, or, that we are reborn. This is life in God’s faith.
Believe me, Jesus stands at the door of your heart, he knocks on as a loving brother, and he expects only your reciprocal love. Amen.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep guard over your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen!
- P. Sigmar Reichel