Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, 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

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were the Moral Majority reform party within Judaism. They were the religious leaders in the villages of Israel. They were into spiritual and social purity, following the letter of the law. They also taught that the oral tradition was a trustworthy guide to all matters of faith. They accepted the history books, the wisdom literature, and the prophets as God’s word.

The Pharisees believed in a very active and present spiritual world. They taught about angels, demons, and the devil. They believed that all people would be resurrected to face a final judgment that would send them either to Abraham’s bosom in heaven, or down to the eternal punishment of hell, all based on the person’s holiness, purity, and fidelity to the faith.

All of that looks pretty familiar to aspects of the Christian faith. There are corners of Christianity that emphasize things like angels and demons. And there certainly are corners of the faith that teach strict religious, social, and behavioral holiness and purity.

This morning I am pretty skeptical about all of that. Clearly it seems that peer pressure, human manipulation, and cultural conformity are built-in features of human spirituality – and that is not a good thing.

This isn’t a modern creation. It didn’t begin in Jesus’ day. It stretched back at least as far as Isaiah. It is actually as old as creation itself. We always think we can do God one better. God gives us freedom. That isn’t good enough for us so we start to define what freedom means. Very quickly we come to realize again that we’re not that good at social engineering. We create monsters. We no longer see people as people but only people as pawns.

When religion becomes our religion then we are just worshipping ourselves.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, forgive us for all the ways we major in minors. All the ways we judge ourselves and others and thereby set ourselves apart. Help us see through, that we might more clearly see you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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