September 2, 2018

So These Two Pharisees Walk up to Jesus...

15th Sunday of Pentecost

First Lesson:  Deuteronomy 4:1, 2, 6-9

Second Lesson:  James 1:17-27

Gospel Lesson:  Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Sermon Text:  Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

 
Dear Friends,
 
It seems that for the last 5 or 6 Sundays, we’ve been reading about how Jesus was trying to retreat from people, to spend some time alone with his disciples and his thoughts. Every time people found him. Again today, we read that Jesus had withdrawn from the crowds, but The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus. If Jesus reacted according to his human nature, I guess he could’ve been frustrated that he never seemed to get time alone. But he obviously employed his divine virtues of care and concern for those who came to him. I suspect that we all know some people who just get under your skin? We kind of cringe when we see them coming towards us. We just know that when they begin to speak, they’re going to say something that irritates us. Jesus recognized who was approaching him and again he used his divine virtue or patience.
 
So these Two Pharisees Walk Up to Jesus . . .
 
The Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?" v.5
 
The Pharisees aren’t difficult to understand.  They are self-righteous.   They believe that they are holier and more religious than most other people.  Do you remember the lesson that Jesus taught about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector?

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ (Luke 18:11)
 
They begin their conversation with Jesus by pointing out to him that they are more righteous than Jesus’ fisherman friends, because they just saw the disciples eating without washing their hands first.  (Have you ever done that? – But this is different.) The Pharisees weren’t concerned about clean hands. Rather, they were implying that the disciples should have gone through a ceremonial cleansing routine, like the Pharisees do, before they began to eat.

The first Pharisee says to Jesus, ““Hey look what I all do. For example, I always keep myself spiritually clean through ceremony and washing.”
 
We get a little bit of explanation here from Mark who wrote this account:
(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) vv. 3,4
 
The Pharisees were so concerned about being pure and righteous that they continually were washing. Don’t kid yourself. Part of the reason they did this was so that people could see how religious they were   They washed every time they came from the Marketplace.  Who knows? Perhaps a Gentile touched them, or maybe the food that they purchased was touched by Gentiles.  They thought that God would be pleased if they washed their hands, their cups and kettles in a mini-religious ceremony.  Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ lesson, this man was saying, “Look at all I do. I must wash my hands 20 times a day.”
 
Following up on the self-centered attitude of the first Pharisee, the second Pharisee would take things a bit farther.  “You know, not only do we wash often, There are certain things we’d never do,” like eat pork, eat with non-Jews, go near a cemetery before the Sabbath or a holiday.  
(They observe the tradition of the elders and many other traditions.) v.4
 
Having made their point that they were pretty holy, and very religious,
The Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders.v.5
 
They are curious as to why Jesus’ disciples, if they are to be respected, don’t follow the traditions as written in the Mishna, the words of the elders.  These traditions, like the constant hand washing, were prescribed to form a “hedge” around the holy and sacred 10 Commandments of Moses.  The Pharisees believed that if they washed often, prayed often, counted their steps, limited the amounts of water they used, or how much wood they carried, by being concerned about these “traditions” they would never risk breaking the “big” commandments. And therefore, they would remain righteous, right with God. And, let us add, such things made them think they were better than others.
 
Was Jesus impressed by all the things that the Pharisees did, or didn’t do?
And Jesus says to them, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." vv.6-8
 
Certainly, Jesus knew all the religious ceremonies of the Jews and the traditions of their elders, but He chastises the Pharisees for their self-righteous attitude.  In effect Jesus says to them, “God is not interested in how you act!  He wants your hearts, your love, your praise.  God doesn’t want to see all that you can do, He wants you to see all that He has done for you!”
 
In their conceit, their hopeless concerns to please God and keep His 10 commandments, the Pharisees have lost their love for God. They love themselves. They love the things they do. They love their traditions.
 
Now, Jesus points out to all who can hear Him, Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.'" v.15
 
A person doesn’t become spiritually unpleasing to God because of the circumstances outside his body, whether his hands are dirty, or whether he’s been in contact with an unbeliever, or what he wears, what he eats or how far he walks.  Jesus says that God is displeased when our “hearts are far from Him,” when we fail to recognize His gracious love, His mercy and His daily blessings.
 
Jesus warns us that we are unclean because of the sinful nature inside of us. For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' vv. 21-23
 
We too are sometimes tempted to tell ourselves how good we are because we come to church every Sunday, because we volunteer to help at church and at school and at a nursing home.  We give regular and special gifts to church. We give to charities. We help little old ladies cross the street. Or we take their carts back to the store from the Walmart parking lot.  Here we go - - - We don’t cheat like “those other” kids in school. We’re not lazy at work like “those others.”  We’re not bigoted and racist like “those extreme conservatives” and we’re not vengeful and oppositional about everything like “those liberals.”    I’ve never shot anyone, like those people in Chicago.  I’ve never stolen a car and caused the police to chase me and flip their cars.  I’ve never grabbed women or had any thoughts about molesting children. Don’t let such thoughts run through your minds or hearts.  Don’t they sound like the verse we read earlier?
I thank you Lord that I am not like other people? Luke 18:11
 
God’s love for us is not based on how often we’ve done good things.  God doesn’t bless us because we haven’t been caught doing the sinful things that run through our minds. God isn’t looking for us to carry out mini religious ceremonies.  Jesus was clear when he spoke to the Pharisees: Our hands don’t need ceremonial washing; our hearts need to be cleansed. 
 
We need a Savior, who takes away our sins when we transgress the 10 commandments; who forgives all our transgressions and wicked thoughts; who cleanses our hearts and purifies our lives.  Jesus does this, and God is pleased, not with us but with Jesus.  And this spiritual cleanliness, righteousness with God is ours because . . .
  • we believe God’s Word.  
  • we believe that God has “created us in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph 2:10;
  • we believe that, “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace.” Eph 1:7;
  • we believe that, “It is by grace [we] have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph. 2:8,9
 
With hearts that are cleansed by God’s remarkable grace through Jesus Christ, who took away all our sins we offer them sincere worship and thanks.
 
Amen