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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 7:1–13

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 13, Proper 16, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Aug 23, 2015 

Something very strange has happened to our culture over the past few years.  People can gain power by portraying themselves as victims.  One of the easiest ways to portray yourself as a victim is to take offense at something.  If someone offends you, then you can claim that you are a victim and acquire the power of the victim.  As a result, people are finding new and more creative ways to take offense.

Nowhere is this more obvious than on the college campuses of our nation.  College administrations have amassed extensive lists of micro-aggressions ways in which a person can offend someone.

According to the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, it is a micro-aggression to say, I believe the most qualified person should get the job. Supposedly, a member of a minority will assume that you really mean that minorities are not qualified.  If the best student in your math or science class has Asian ancestors, it is insulting to ask him or her for help with your studies.  After all, you dont want to give the impression that you believe that Asians are naturally good in technical subjects.  You dare not say, There is only one race, the human race. This denies the individual as a racial / cultural being.

A paper came out at the University of New Hampshire that states that I should be insulted when someone refers to me as a senior citizen.  Apparently, the proper term is old person.  This same paper states that it is insulting to refer to someone as a poor person.  Instead, they are experiencing poverty.  In a similar manner you dare not refer to someone as a homeless person.  Instead, they are experiencing homelessness.

There are people who express offense at the Confederate Flag the P-O-W / M-I-A flag the word Dixie and more.  It is getting ridiculous.  We are almost at the point that we are afraid to move or speak for fear that someone might get offended and you might become the target of a law suit.

Jesus encountered a similar problem in the reading we just heard.  Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands? (Mark 7:15)

Notice that the problem isnt that the disciples didnt wash their hands.  The problem is that they didnt wash their hands according to the tradition of the elders, a special kind of ceremonial washing.  The scribes and Pharisees take offense because the disciples dont wash their hands the right way.

Now the phrase Tradition of the Elders has a certain ring to it.  It sounds very official and very noble.  It sounds like a good thing.  The problem is that the hypocrites among the scribes and Pharisees studied Holy Scripture and the Tradition of the Elders in order to determine what they could get away with and still consider themselves righteous according to the law.  They were interpreting the law in the way they wanted to interpret it and condemning everyone who did not agree with them.  Does that sound familiar?  It should because our culture still does that today.

Jesus had very little patience with hypocrites.  He very quickly showed that these scribes and Pharisees valued their tradition above the Word of God.  He even showed how their traditions allowed them to violate the Word of God as given to Moses.  The scribes and Pharisees were teaching and practicing a man-made religion instead of the faith given by God.  He said to them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. 8You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. (Mark 7:68)

Notice that it is Jesus who quotes the Old Testament.  It is Jesus who calls for faithfulness to God and not just an outward hypocrisy.  We often ignore the fact that Jesus is the old-fashioned ultra-conservative doctrinal purist who was always taking His hearers back to the Word of God.

Jesus pointed out that while the scribes and Pharisees were offended that the disciples didnt wash their hands the right way, they also broke the actual commandments of God.  For example, they used their tradition to avoid caring for their parents.  [Jesus] said to them, You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother; and, Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die. 11But you say, If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban (that is, given to God) 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do. (Mark 7:913)

These words from Jesus invite us to ask some very uncomfortable questions.  Do I worship God with my lips, but reject Him in my heart? Do I express my own ideas as true doctrine? Do I have any traditions that reject the commandment of God? How often do I behave exactly like the scribes and Pharisees offended by every little thing while I myself ignore the Word of God?

Ultimately, acquiring power by taking offense does no good and makes life miserable.  It is just another way to be a bully.  It is as King Solomon said, Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. (Proverbs 10:12) He also said, Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11) By the power of the Holy Spirit the Apostle Peter also wrote, Love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8) Instead of taking offense, we ought to seek ways to build one another up.

Although the scribes and Pharisees were indeed foolish with their washing rituals, there is a kind of washing that God did give for all people.  Jesus said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:1820) This Baptism is not a Tradition of the Elders. Instead, it is the Word of the Christ who is both God and Lord.

By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul wrote, Do you not know that All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Romans 6:36) These words teach us that the washing of Holy Baptism joins us to the cross of Christ.  Therefore, the washing of Holy Baptism delivers the forgiveness of sins that He earned with His suffering and death on the cross.  This Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.

The Greek word for wash in the reading we just heard is βαπτίζω.  This is the root of the word for baptize.  If we used this word in the reading we just heard, we would hear, For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they baptize their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they baptize. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the baptizing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.

The scribes and Pharisees were right in thinking that washing was important.  They were wrong in thinking that it was the washing of the Tradition of the Elders. The important washing is the washing away of sin for the sake of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit delivers that forgiveness of sins through the washing of Holy Baptism.  This washing even delivers forgiveness for the sin of taking offense on our own terms rather than obeying the Word of God.  Amen

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