The following are portions of a written transcript from the LB Homes’ resident Bible study led by Chaplain Caleb Larson led on Wednesday, January 8th. The text Caleb taught from is Mark 7.
We learn traditions as young people. Christmas, for those who grow up and get married, looks very different with a different family. I've talked to many married couples who say, “Well, Christmas just doesn't feel quite the same as it did when you were a kid.” Why? Because you want to really live the traditions you know.
Lutefisk might be the tradition you encounter with the Christmas meal. I don't know why that became a tradition. I don't think that should have become a tradition. I'm not a fan of it. But for some, if it doesn't have lutefisk can it really be called a Christmas meal?
It's not written anywhere that lutefisk has to be a part of the Christmas meal. But it's a tradition, and we carry those things in our hearts. And if we're not careful, we can confuse tradition with the commands of God. Now, lutefisk at Christmas is a simple example, a silly example, but these traditions can be much more serious than that and they can be much more destructive than that. The reason they can be destructive is sometimes traditions can distract us from the things that matter.
In our text, Jesus is finding that his teaching is a running into many, many years and generations of Jewish tradition. And what Jesus is finding is the same thing that the prophets found before. That when you try to upset tradition, people don't like it. Jesus is not coming to rewrite the Scriptures, but he's coming to remind the people what really matters. They've been so caught up in the way that they do things that that's what it's become about. It's become about the traditions.
Then he goes on to speak to the crowd after he's rebuked the Pharisees and the teachers of the law for their question after he calls them hypocrites. And why? Because he knows they're not really concerned that the disciples are eating with defiled hands. They're just looking for excuses to discredit Jesus, to discredit his ministry. And Jesus was quick to fire back and says, “No, no, no, take that hypocrisy elsewhere because you are very quick to bend the law of God and the favor of your traditions. Don't get upset at me if I'm willing to bend your traditions to uphold the word of God.”
Then Jesus goes on and he addresses the crowd as the Pharisees are gathered there. He gives them this instruction and he says, “Listen to me, everyone.” Jesus never passes up an opportunity to turn one of the Pharisees interrogations into a teaching moment for the crowds. And so he says, “Listen to me everyone and understand this,” and then he says something that is profound and that is powerful and that really resonated in the context that he was speaking of and it's still important for us to remember today. He says this, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles.”
Now, this you have to understand is for the Jews of Jesus' day. A fairly radical teaching because what was the issue that sparked this discussion? It had to do with ceremonial cleansing. The Jews were very fastidious and took very seriously the ceremonies of outward cleanliness, the ceremonies of purification, the rituals, the processes of clean and unclean, the foods, the diets. All of these things were very important. They were a key part of what the Jews viewed that separated them from the Gentiles. For Jesus to say that, “Look, nothing on the outside can defile you, rather what defiles you comes from within,” is very important.
Jesus is declaring that the things that they haven't been so concerned about the things that they have spent their time being concerned about the ceremonial washing and their diets and all these things are not really what they should be concerned about. One of the chief issues, not the only issue, but one of the chief issues that many of the Pharisees and many of the teachers of the law had in Jesus' day was they spent their time worried about the wrong things. They spent their time worrying about the traditions rather than worrying about what was going on in their own heart.
This is important for us to remember, because the temptation to do the same is just as strong today. We still have the same temptation the Pharisees do, to look at somebody and to look at the circumstances of their life, to look at their living conditions or look at their, their house or look at things that affect them and to say, “Ooh, that person. They’re not the sort of person that I want to associate with. That person is someone who is outside of God's purview, maybe based on their diet or based on their condition. It can be easy to look at someone suffering from a malady, suffering from a disease and to say, “They must've done something to make God angry at them to be defiled in this way, to be unclean, to be outcast.” And you know what Jesus is saying? “It's not the thing that's coming in, not the disease coming in, making a person unclean. It's not the food coming in and make a person unclean. It's nothing in our environment that makes us unclean. It’s our hearts
Uncleanliness, the uncleanliness that God is concerned about, really begins here, in our heart. And what Jesus really drives home and hopes to encourage us here is, don't get so caught up in those things that you forget what really is important. It's not diet. It's not attire. It's not how dirty or how clean you are physically that affects the cleanliness of your soul. What affects the cleanliness of your soul is the reality of sin in our lives.
And so where we see sin, we call it what it is because sin is far more serious than simply bucking a tradition, and sin is far more serious than what you eat or drink or wear. It can be so easy to become so focused on little things. Focusing on those things can cause us to miss the big elephant in the room. Part of the reason that it's easy for us to be so close to stopping the little things is because it can be scary to confront the reality of sin in our lives, because sin is destructive.
Sin is difficult to deal with. Were it left up to us, sin would devour us. The good news is that Jesus Christ came for this very reason, to take care of our sin. If it was as simple as completing a tradition, like washing your hands before you eat, I don't think Jesus would have gone to the cross. What can wash away our sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. We claim to that blood now. May it cover us in washes clean. We ask in Jesus' Holy name. Amen.