Week of October 31

Freeing People to Soar in their Faith

Read: Job 22; Mark 7-8
“And he called the people to him again and said to them, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.’”
Mark 7:14-15, ESV


It has been said, “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings” (Kate Chopin, The Awakening). Jewish tradition had become an oppressive burden for Jews to carry. Our Lord challenged it and called for it to be stripped away for people to take flight in a direct encounter with God. Jesus was gathering a new community, and it would be necessary to remove the old to prepare the way for the new. Sometimes this change is more difficult than we think. Let’s look closely at today’s focal passage.

Let's See What the Bible Says

The Background
Have you ever seen a lovely home that has become overgrown with shrubs and vines? The vegetation overwhelms the house and hinders the enjoyment of it fully. Some Jewish traditions were choking the spiritual life out of people. Therefore, Jesus challenges the Pharisees, not on the fine points of the Old Testament law, but on their traditions that had grown up around it (see 7:3, 8, & 13). Mark explains what was happening in chapter 7, verses 3-4, when he casts the spotlight on Pharisaic traditions about washing hands and utensils a certain way before dining.

Their “tradition” was the scribal interpretation of the written Mosaic law. This tradition was later (ca. A.D. 220) collected and reduced to writing in a source called the “Mishna” (NAC; Hebrew, “to study or review”). This conflict in Mark 7 was not about hygiene, but rather about spiritual purity (NAC). These requirements originally were obligations for priests, but it appears by this time that the Pharisees had begun to place these duties on the backs of people (Exodus 30:17-21; 40:12; Mark 7:3). Without oversimplifying the point, sometimes we take good things and begin to use them in a wrong way. So, you are thinking, how on earth does this help me with my Christian life today? Great question!
How to Soar above Unnecessary Traditions
Remember my opening quote to this devotional? We too often overburden people with requirements that hinder them from taking flight in Christ. Issues like this teaching moment in Mark would come to the forefront as the Early Church was being established and countless numbers of Gentiles (i.e. unholy and unclean) were receiving Christ! The Jewish traditions were a heavy burden for Gentiles to carry. When I write “Gentiles” that means non-Jewish folks, like you and me. Mark has included three narratives on Gentile ministry in chapter 7. These were significant because it would later become imperative not to hinder the pure Gospel advance (cf. Acts 15:1-11).

Here is a case study for us to consider. You will recall our recent readings in the Book of Acts where Peter had been summoned to the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion (Acts 10). Peter had a vision where the Lord let down from heaven all sorts of “four-footed animals and crawling creatures” to eat. He refused to eat because he had never consumed what was unholy or unclean (Acts 10:10-16). God told him not to consider unholy what He had cleansed, meaning Cornelius, the Gentile!

So, what was the problem? The problem was that he dined and enjoyed fellowship with that man and his family, who became brothers and sisters in Christ, BUT later withdrew from fellowship with Gentiles based on their being considered unclean by strict Jews (Galatians 2:11-14). We must be careful not to confuse the commands of God—those in the Scriptures—with the “traditions of men.”

Let's Deepen Our Walk

I have written earlier about not creating burdens that hinder our flight, but allow me to use another analogy to illustrate the point of Mark 7. I enjoy watching various Fixer-Upper shows on television. Old houses are filled with surprises. Some disclosures are costly, like a crack in the foundation, while others add value to the home. Regardless of the show, and I watch several different ones, the builder is always excited to find original hardwood floors beneath layers of carpet. They include a scene or two where the old wood floor is stripped of its surface and restored to its original beauty. It takes time, but the results add beauty and value to the home. Jesus’ disciples are often overladen with unneeded traditions. These not only rob them of joy in the Christian life, but they also may hinder the access of others to the Savior!

Here is a thought for our spiritual growth. First, we may burden people with silly things, like their attire. There were times when folks in church considered people “unholy” who wore casual attire to worship. Goodness, sometimes I currently feel “unclean” in church because I wear dress slacks and an open-collar dress shirt! I witnessed similar attitudes at times when I was a pastor.

On a deeper level, we take sincerely the writings and comments of a respected Christian leader and begin to be influenced more by them than the Scriptures they were meant to illuminate! We claim theological systems and parties like “Calvinists” or “Armenians.” We filter all that we read in Scripture through these frameworks, which too often hinders our clear access to the word of God. We do the same with our current favorite teacher/writer. Jesus, in contrast, calls us to our senses and reminds us that we are look to the innermost parts of our hearts when considering moral cleanliness and holiness. Jesus, to carry the analogy forward, must strip away any veneer that hinders direct access to the Heavenly Father.

Let's Think and Discuss

1. All of us have “traditions” that whisper loudly in our ears when we encounter those who have yet to receive Christ. Write some of them down. Ask the Lord to help you to distinguish between tradition and Scripture. Ask the Spirit to disable hurtful traditions and to enable an effective witness.

2. For Families: Ask your children to play a game with you. Let one of your children say, “I want to come to Jesus.” Then, as the child says the phrase, let family members respond by saying, “First you must . . .” and finish the sentence with something he or she has to do before he or she can come to Jesus. For example, the child says, “I want to come to Jesus,” and the next person says, “First you must pay a thousand dollars to the church.” Then, “First you must dress up in your best Sunday clothes and go to church,” or “First you must sing in the kid’s choir,” or “First you must fly to the moon and back.” Let them be as silly and creative as they can be. Then ask your family: what must a person really do to come to Jesus and love Him? The answer is simple. Just do it. Let them come. Without any barriers at all. Loving Jesus is the most important thing we can do.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock