Monday, October 01, 2018

Devotional: What Is Holiness? Mark 7.1-23

Mark 7.1-23 outline

The big question for all religions is, what is it that brings us into God’s presence?" What is it that God wants us to be and do? Jesus answers that question in a unique way in Mark 7.1-23 when the Pharisees question him about keeping their traditions that had been passed down over the years after Israel’s return from exile. Interestingly, Jesus does not really respond directly to their accusation, but questions their entire premise: their basis for holiness. The Pharisees had created many traditions that they thought placed a “fence” around the law and protected it and thus, identified the people of God by keeping ritual and rules. But Jesus rejected this means of identifying God’s people and granting them relationship with God. Instead, he taught that holiness does not come from external actions or traditions, which tend to separate us from one another and become a "who's in, who's out" criteria, but from inner attitudes of submission and love for God and for others that come out in our actions to one another. Relationship with God is only possible through a change of heart, (predicted by Moses, Jeremiah and Ezekiel in their new covenant prophecies) accomplished by Christ and implemented by the Holy Spirit, which then results in thoughts and actions that reflect the image of God.

In 7:1-13, Mark recounts Jesus’ dialog with the Pharisees about keeping rules and traditions. Jesus’ point is that reducing the commands of God to external human rules is just a way to avoid obeying the harder issues to which God calls His people: self-sacrificing love for God and for other people and attitudes and actions which reflect the character of God. Instead of loving God and serving people, these human rules put barriers between people that allow us to self-righteously condemn others and justify ourselves while we fail to allow God to deal with the sinful issues in our own lives. Jesus’ example is the Pharisaic rule of “Corban” which allowed a person to designate a future gift to God so that he did not have to use it to take care of one’s parents – something directly commanded by God. Rules allow people with hard hearts to keep a semblance of religion while denying its heart and soul.

Jesus then explains his point to the disciples in 7:14-23. Sin that causes people to separate themselves from God comes from the heart and out into the actions, not the other way around. The issue is the heart, not the outside. Rules about ritual and food do not make people acceptable to come into God’s presence. Thus, all foods, and associations with all people are clean. The problem is not external but an internal compulsion that expresses itself in a wide variety of evil actions. Jesus here is pointing out the need for a changed heart. And who can do that but the one who can heal all diseases, expel demons with a word and calm the chaotic sea? The issue is the heart and only connection to Jesus can fix that.

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