Monday, April 23rd. Mark 7:1-8

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ He said to them, ‘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,
   teaching human precepts as doctrines.” 
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’”
  Mark 7:1-8


What are rules and why do rules matter?


Simply stated, rules are standards for activity, boundaries for behavior, that allow people to play together well. Without rules, life together would descend into chaos.


From sharing the lanes of a freeway to enjoying a baseball game, life is possible because we have rules.  We can’t live without rules. 


At the same time, while the rules which regulate our lives are helpful, our need for rules gives rise to the need to set the rules, alter the rules, interpret the rules, impose the rules, and regulate the rules. We have rules for choosing those who establish rules and pay high fees to those who can help us bend the rules.


Like a rushing river that is beautiful until it spills outside of its banks, rules have their place until they become the purpose rather than boundaries within which we live toward the purposes of life.  Rules can be deadly when they take on a life of their own.


There was a time when the self-imposed rules of the Jewish holiness code had their place.  As a means of creating and establishing an identity, rules governing cleanliness and social behaviors were helpful.  Helpful until they spilled their banks, took on a life of their own, and became the end rather than means to the end.


Rules can be sneaky that way.  Especially when we discover that we can bend them to our own purposes, impose them on others, or when they become so fixed that they recede into the background and we forget why we do what we do the way we do it.


This is what is happening here between Jesus and the religious leaders.  Sensing the danger that Jesus poses to their positions of power, the religious leaders pull out the rule book and throw a penalty flag when they see the disciples eating without washing their hands.  Seen from their own point of view, the Pharisees are protecting the religious social order.  Seen from Jesus’ point of view, the Pharisees are putting themselves in the position of Ruler to protect their own positions of power.


Rather than regulating behavior to establish community, their religious rules are imposing behaviors that divide and destroy community.  At that point, the rules need to change.


Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, we often don’t realize degree to which our lives are impacted by expectations that long ago lost their helpfulness.  We don’t always recognize when rules and traditions have lost their purpose and taken on a life of their own.  Open our eyes and keep us mindful of what makes or breaks our lives in community with others.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


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