The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart!
So declares Jesus to the religious leaders in Mark 7:21. They were offended because the disciples ate without washing their hands (verse 2). This was not about personal hygiene! They’re upset because the disciples didn’t follow their rules and traditions (verses 3-5).
Jesus’ response is shocking! The problem, He says, doesn’t lie with the disciples and their dirty hands … but with the religious leaders and their dirty hearts: ‘they are hypocrites who honour [God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from [Him]’ (verse 6).
Firstly, they love Human TRADITIONS more than God’s TRUTH. They’ve set aside God’s Word in favour of their wants (verse 8-9). They bypassed God’s command to, ‘honour your parents’ through corban! Corban was to dedicate a resource to God now but only give it later … meanwhile, you continue benefitting from it … keep it for me and for my comfort until I no longer need it or want it, then give it to the church. Having dedicated it to God, when parents come for help, I simply say – sorry, I would have given it to you, but I’ve set it aside for God! It sounds noble – I’m being generous … it sounds spiritual – I’m pledging something to God … but in fact, I’m being dishonest and deceitful, selfish and shameful! They ‘nullify the word of God by [their] tradition’ (verse13). And, this is not an isolated issue (verse13).
Essentially, they stopped LISTENING to God. In putting their tradition ahead of God’s truth, they reveal their heart problem!
Secondly, they love Human RELIGION more than God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS. They wash their cups, pitchers and kettles and everything else religiously because they think if they’re clean outwardly God will accept them. Why they’re upset the disciples don’t wash … why they’re careful about what they eat … and with whom! They don’t want to be contaminated by the outside world.
Essentially, they stopped LOVING God. In making it about the outside, they’ve ignored the inside … their hands were clean, but their hearts were far from God!
But Jesus says they’ve made a fundamental error (verse 15). Dirt on your skin doesn’t make you unacceptable to God … nor does the food that goes in your mouth. What goes into your mouth goes into your stomach, not your heart (that’s Biology 101!) … and from your stomach it goes into the latrine (that’s what Jesus actually says in verse19!). Nothing from the outside – whether dirt, food, clothes or even company – can defile the inside! BUT, what comes out reveal what’s inside. And what’s inside reveals that we are already unclean, already defiled!
Evil prevails not because we’re not religious, but because we’re not righteous – don’t have a heart that loves God more than anything! Why we need God’s righteousness not human religion. God’s righteousness changes the inside … transforms hearts … gives us a heart that loves God and that loves our neighbour!
Remember, Jesus is talking to the religious elite, to the socially respectable, to the moral and the upright – to people just like us? So Mark 7 is a reminder to examine our own lives and hearts:
– maybe our traditions have become sacred and untouchable … they reveal, despite our respectability, that we’re not really listening to God … need to repent and return to God in obedience to His Word.
– maybe we have an outward religion where our hands are clean, but our hearts are far from God … not righteous through Jesus … need to repent and return to God for a new heart.
Prayer: Gracious Father, help us to guard our hearts from loving our tradition more than your truth; from loving our human religion more than your glorious righteousness; from loving ourselves more than You and our neighbours. Thank you for the righteousness found in Jesus Christ by faith alone. Help us to live as those with transformed hearts and lives. Amen.