February 6, 2024
Tuesday morning Bible Study on the Gospel of Mark 7:1-4
Blessings and Peace be with you on this cloudy morning which promises to bring much needed rain to the desert.
Today please watch out for the wind which is predicted later tonight and tomorrow. Wind gusts as high as 60 mph can do a lot of damage, and can move things in your yard around, even things which you thought would never be affected by wind. It would be wise to be certain that your car is not parked under trees. My little car is always under that big tree in our front yard. You know, shade from the sun. Today it will be moved to a different place in the front yard away from the tree, so please be careful.
I know that it seems like the previous chapter of the Gospel of Mark seemed to go on forever. Today we begin the 7th chapter, which really helps us to understand how Jesus saw the religious authorities, and their lives as the "faithful" of God. Jesus was not kind to those who perpetrated all of these rules and regulations for growing more right with God. The Scribes and Pharisees were caught in a trap of their own making. Right away in these first four verses we begin to see the areas of conflict which will arise between Jesus and those religious authorities. The very first of these conflicts surrounds the fact that Christ's Disciples fail to "wash" their hands before eating. You might ask why this is such a big deal. It is a big deal because these leaders already know the kind of authority and power to heal that Jesus has shown himself to possess, and quite frankly the Scribes and Pharisees were trying to argue with him to convince the people that he was not the great Rabbi that they were claiming Him to be.
So, what lies behind this "washing" of the hands that has come to be a problem? The very first thing that we need to understand is that this complaint is not about having hands that are physically clean enough to eat. It is not like getting the young men and boy in my home, my sons, to get washed up and ready for a meal to be served. That's hard enough by itself. For the religious leaders this is a matter of honoring God with ritual washing of the hands before, during, and after the consumption of food.
The complaint here is that the disciples do not honor the tradition of the elders. Originally the tradition of the elders meant the obedience to the 10 commandments, and then following the rules of the first 5 books of what we call the Old Testament, that is, the Books of Moses which comprise what today is called the Torah. The Torah contained, and contains, the rules for living in a historically accurate way in one's life. Initially the Jews were content using these much broader guides for living in relationship with God which contained a certain number of detailed regulations and instructions. In the manner of moral questions, they contain a series of great moral principles which a person must apply to his own life. But in the fourth and fifth centuries a class of legal experts came into being.( probably in response to the exile, and subsequent return to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem) These "Scribes" wanted to break all of these broader rules for living into thousands of tiny little guides for every fact and function of living if one was going to be truly respectful of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These guides meant that life was no longer to be guided by just the 10 Commandments and the Torah. Under the Scribes, now life was instead guided by rules and regulations which are summarized in the Mishna, and it was all intended to offer rules for EVERY part of a person's life. This is where the issue of the washing of hands comes from.
This ceremonial cleanness was a must if one was to be right with God. The guide of the Scribes for following the traditions of the elders had become more and more difficult as those rules expanded to cover all of a person's life. The ritual washing of a person's hands took place as follows:
1. It must take place before eating, and between every course of a meal.
2. The water for cleansing had to be kept in special large stone jars. (think here about the wedding at Cana in Galilee) This water was itself to be ritually clean and could be used for no other purpose in the home.
3. Holding one's fingers up to the sky, a small amount of water was to be poured over the fingers so that enough was used to get wet at least to the wrist, then the hands were turned so that the fingers were pointing down, and washed again with water being poured from the wrists down over the fingers. This must be done at every change in the meal being eaten. The amount of water to be used in each of these parts of the ritual washing was to be one "log", that is an amount of water at least as big as one- and one-half eggshells full of water.
4. Finally, the person whose hands are now wet must wring the water off each hand and fingers with the fist of the other hand.
For the Scribes, failure to follow the prescriptions of this rule meant that a person was unclean before God. Now that is not all. Failure to ritually cleanse in this manner meant that the person was susceptible to a demon called Shibta or would become liable to poverty and destruction.
I hope you are beginning to see why Jesus takes the time to address the issue of these man-made regulations, and then the punishments which are apparently not from God who they believed was offended, but just come at the person out of the blue. If you would like more on this, read Leviticus 11 to 15. Then of course there is the issue of using utensils which have been made unclean by being handled by ritually unclean hands, or by having ritually unclean food in them. Even the kind of plate, dish, or utensils had varying regulations for how each kind must be cleaned. In the Misha there are twelve treatises on this kind of uncleanness and how to make it correct by certain use of rules and regulations. Obviously, the complexity of all of these rules and regulations meant that a person attempting to be right with God would be consumed by all that had to be done to accomplish it. While many in the time of Jesus saw religion as ritual, ceremonial, rules and regulations, Jesus saw all of this as a barrier to what was really before all people, loving God above all else, and loving one's neighbors as he/she loves themselves.
I suspect by now that you can already see the pattern that is developing between Jesus and those who are caught in the complexity of the Mishna type rules for living and being right with God.
I will be back with you next Monday. God bless you and keep you in the days in between our time together. Pastor Kim.