I’ve been facilitating a Bible study on the gospel of Mark on Sunday evenings, using a curriculum from Asbury Theological Seminary. Last Sunday, our scripture included Mark 7, and the controversy surrounding Jesus and his disciples not washing their hands “according to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:5).
The Pharisees weren’t referring to washing hands for hygienic reasons, the way we might before a meal; they were referring to a religious ritual, whereby people washed their hands to rid themselves of spiritual contamination. Righteous Jews in the first century were required to observe these practices (later written down as part of the Mishnah), even though they weren’t spelled out in the Old Testament.
Jesus, in response, tells the Pharisees that the problem isn’t what goes into someone—from outside of themselves—but what comes out. Jesus then gives examples of sinful actions that indicate that the problem is within the human heart (Mark 7:14-23). These, he says, are the things that defile a person.
So our problem with sin isn’t outside of ourselves; it’s within ourselves. No amount of washing with water can fix that problem. The only solution is to be washed in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).
This relates to last week’s scripture, John 2:1-12. Notice the “six stone water jars” in v. 6 were for “Jewish rites of purification.” The water in these jars was for the same ritual to which the Pharisees in Mark 7 had referred. Before eating, the wedding guests would wash their hands in order to be spiritually “pure.”
By transforming the water in these jugs into wine, most Bible scholars believe that Jesus is showing us that he is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament laws. Through his life, death, and resurrection, he has accomplished for us what the Law was unable to accomplish. He has cleansed us from sin in a way that the Law couldn’t do. Our hearts need to be fixed, and that’s what Jesus’ atoning death, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, makes possible.
According to Jesus, the problem is always in our hearts. This is why, in the Sermon on the Mount, he can say those challenging words equating anger with murder and lust with adultery—because the sin points to the same “heart” condition—even though it manifests itself to differing degrees.
One question we discussed last Sunday was about tithing. Many times I’ve been asked, “Should I tithe on before-tax or after-tax income?” While I encourage all my church members to at least give a tithe, if possible, the question is flawed. God isn’t interested in this percentage or that percentage; he’s interested in our hearts overflowing with gratitude, such that we give generously and sacrificially. That can’t be reduced to a number or a percentage.
I’ve been recuperating this week from some minor surgery on my ear. This gave my cat, Peanut, yet another excuse (as if he needs one) to lie in bed and sleep all day. This picture captured him in mid-yawn! Pretty cool, huh?