Updated: Feb 6
When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
This is the Gospel selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018. In the numbering system that lists each Sunday in an ordinal fashion, this Sunday is referred to as Proper 17. It will next be read aloud in an Episcopal church by a priest on Sunday September 2, 2018. It is important because Jesus quoted Isaiah, saying the pretentiousness of religious appearance, shown by upholding traditions as holy doctrines without sincerity, is not pleasing to God.
As Christians in today’s environment of social acceptance of just about everything imaginable, it is easy to be caught up in a love of Jesus, which blinds many from seeing themselves represented in the Pharisees of this reading. The Pharisees seem to reflect the failures of our government to maintain the standards of Christian morals, where Christians see themselves as the disciples following Jesus and trying to be devout; but those damn elected representatives and appointed judges always find something to complain about, always striking down the things Christians do as not applicable to the minorities that are not Christian. However, the focus of this reading is on Christians being self-serving, like the Pharisees, in their ways that have misinterpreted Scripture.
Instead of seeing the disciples as sinners that Jesus forgave, due to physical urges that had them cook food in unwashed pots and then prepare and eat food without washing their hands thoroughly, one should see Jesus never once spoke against the ritual act of handwashing. The Pharisees were speaking of the Law that applied especially to the priests of the tabernacle, which is written:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.” (Exodus 30:17-21)
Since the Jews were descended of the people of Judah, of which the Levites served as priests in Solomon’s Temple, Jesus was recognized as a teacher (a rabboni) of God’s commandments to all who would be priests of God. The Pharisees were less concerned about the disciples of Jesus not acting priestly, than they were in pointing out to Jesus how unpriestly his teachings were, as demonstrated by his disciples.
This led to Jesus quoting from Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13), where it was clear that ritual observed without an emotional connection – a desire that makes the ritualistic act meaningful to the person enacting it – is vanity [i.e.: worthless as far as Yahweh is concerned]. This is the intent of Jesus saying, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
The Pharisees were pointing out what they thought were sins in others [i.e.: the sin police], while there was no heartfelt understanding of the reason handwashing was commanded to be maintain by God.
Now, the Episcopal Lectionary website lists a break in the verses read, but where they say the final section of the reading is verses 21-23, the Bible Hub Interlinear website shows “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile” as their paraphrase translation of verse 18. Perhaps there are different editions of Mark, or perhaps they are parsing and pasting so freely that skipping over bits and pieces gets confusing. This translation, by whatever verse, is misleading.
Simply by reading that translation as a statement made by Jesus, one could reject that statement as false. Certainly, if someone picked up a rat that was infested with fleas that carried the bubonic plague virus (something external to one), and if one of those fleas were to bite the one picking it up, then something outside that person could defile him or her with the Black Plague. Yo the Jews, diseases were recognized as signs of sin, thus defiling. This means “nothing outside … can defile” is wrong. However, Jesus did not say that.
The problem is attaching the negative word “not” (“ou”) to the word that says “everything” (“pan”) and then changing “not everything” to “nothing.” Jesus actually said and intended his words to reflect: “Not everything from outside entering within a man can defile him.” [This also a paraphrase, as verse 18 has three segments, with the last two being combined to make this over simplification be the statement.]
Jesus was then talking about not washing pots and pans or food before making a meal and then eating it with unwashed hands. A lunch meal, also, is not sacrificial food prepared at the altar by a priest of the temple. Therefore, Jesus was pointing out the “compare apples to apples” argument, where comparing apples to oranges is flawed from the beginning.
Just wipe your hands in the prairie grass before eating [or pants]. For cowpokes it is optional.
Jesus actually posed that statement to the Pharisees and scribes as a question, meaning he turned the tables on them by questioning how they could think they were so priestly and not understand that. The second part of his statement is also presented as a question, where “not” is repeated, as “[Dirty hands, pots, and food is] not able to defile.” It was said as, “You do not know that, right?”
In this way, the questions asked to Jesus about his disciples were answered by more questions. This was a common tactic of Jesus, as a rabbi teaching those who thought they knew it all. This is similar to how Jesus asked Nicodemus, “You are a teacher of Israel and you do not know these things?” (John 3:10)
When we read the translation above that has Jesus state, “but the things that come out are what defile,” this is actually verse 20, according to the Bible Hub Interlinear. This verse is also broken into three segments, such that the first places focus on “moreover,” which is like saying, “And another important thing to know.”
The second segment then places importance on the results: “that which comes out of a human being.” The results are the actions, works and deeds a human being gives rise to. The focus is on the fact that one’s actions are not easily written off as being the product of one’s environment, as due to cause and effect, based on what one eats, absorbs, or lives amidst. Human beings generate acts that are not wholly uncontrollable and predictable. The unseen variable is God’s protection.
The final segment shows the importance of understanding that it is the man (any human being) that is responsible for acts that defile. This last segment reads literally as, “that defiles the man.” However, the word “that” directly points back to the second segment’s focus on what comes out of a human being. So, those acts that “defile” are owned by the one performing those acts.
Jesus then clarified outward acts that defile, by stating, “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
By saying, “from the human heart,” this means acts that defile are not those that the brain leads, which can be classified as instinctual. A hungry person that is starving is not led by emotions to eat, just as a wild predator does not hunt and kill out of malice of heart. Therefore, each of the twelve acts that come out of humans that are defiling are based on the heart leading the brain to act in evil ways. This says that it is the heart link that determines what acts are sinful and what acts that appear sinful are simply natural.
More than seven deadly sins is Dante’s many steps down into Hell. Jesus just named twelve.
As the Gospel selection for the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s personal ministry to the LORD should be underway – one is acting naturally, based on a profoundly deep love of God in one’s heart – the message here is to focus one one’s inner being, rather than point fingers at others. The failures of the Pharisees and scribes of Jerusalem’s temple was they were all brain for God’s Laws, with no heartfelt understanding. Thus, the message is to know one’s own heart.
When Christians today hear these words read aloud in church by a priest, who holds high the ceremonial book of Gospel readings, a human tradition is unfolding before their eyes. I remember my first times going into a church where standing, sitting, and kneeling was so confusing to a newcomer that I was always doing the opposite of what the regular congregation was doing.
My Pentecostal upbringing had taught me to silently allow someone in the congregation to stand suddenly and make loud noises, with arms raised, and then sit down. Others would quietly say, “Praise the Lord.” I witnesses newcomers break out into laughter when they experienced what I had been raise to accept as normal.
All of this is human tradition, none of which Jesus of Nazareth had ever encountered.
The fractured denominations of Christianity, where each differs from the rest due to some degree of Scriptural interpretation or another, they all point fingers at one another [whether or not that is the intent] in ways that are parallel to the Pharisees calling out Jesus for having not disciplined his disciples. This is how one should see this reading. One must be prompted to look within one’s heart to understand why it is one sits in a pew in a church, listening to Scripture being read and sermons being preached.
One must ask oneself, “Am I just honoring God with my lips and not my heart, because I come to church in vain, loving the presentation of ritual and tradition as doctrine, more than loving God through ministry that gets my hand dirty in self-sacrifice?”
The question Christians must ask themselves individually is, “Have I become a Pharisee?”
From the twelve branches of sin named by Jesus, look at how many we can see reflected in the Pharisees and scribes, simply from their displayed ignorance of the truth of God’s Laws. While the dirtiness of external contact is readily grasped – as the physical acts of sin – see if you can realize the spiritual acts that are most harmful to a soul.
The translation of “fornication” comes from the Greek word “porneiai,” which can equally state “idolatry and “sexual immorality.” As priests of the LORD, who should have been married to God in their hearts, did the Pharisees not cheat on God by idolizing Moses? Do Christians not do the same with Jesus, wearing crosses around their necks and bowing to figurines of Jesus hanging on a cross?
When the act of “theft” is considered, it is easy to think in terms of stealing food to eat. In terms of the Pharisees and scribes, they stole the wealth of the Jews, taking it as their own. Still, was their greater theft not the fact that they used their positions of leadership to mislead those who followed them, taking them away from service to God? Do Christian churches not mislead in the same ways, keeping members as lost sheep, rather than souls freed by the Holy Spirit?
All throughout the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth the Pharisees and scribes plotted to “murder” Jesus, while using the Law and accusations of heresy as justification. While killing a threat to the flock can be determined a justifiable act, just as killing a sacrificial animal before the altar was necessary in ancient Israel, “murder” is the intentional, unjustified slaughter of innocence. Have Roman Catholic priests not murdered the children that represented the future life blood of that institution, driving them away unjustly? Is not the simple question, “Why are millennials leaving the Church? a sign of Christianity being murdered by the purposeful lack of true faith shown by Christians?
In human terms, “adultery” is “Consensual sexual intercourse between a married person and a person other than the spouse.” [American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition]. On spiritual terms, is this not seen in how the Pharisees loved their wealth, possessions, and their powers of influence, as having spiritually made “love” to the god Mammon, who appeared in any form that whispered ‘sweet nothings’ into their mental ears, telling them how important self was? Likewise, are Western Christians not so involved with material quests that they lie down with whatever sin promises to make their cell phone payments, their cable-satellite TV payments, the fancy car payments, and their lavish home mortgage payments? Does the Church not still offer forgiveness of “adultery” through indulgences?
The sin of “avarice”, from the Greek word “pleonexiai,” means “covetous desires,” while being a statement of “aggressiveness and a desire for advantages.” Did the Pharisees and scribes not covet the attraction that the newcomer Jesus was having with the Jews? Was his popularity not taking away from them what they believed was theirs to possess? Do Christians today not believe that Jesus wants them to have as much as their credits cards will allow, as if a pastor driving the newest Cadillac is a sign of how powerful their God is?
The Greek word “ponēriai” translates as “wickedness,” also meaning “iniquities.” This means one is led to grossly immoral acts, which are unjust and harmful. This is an outward manifestation of one’s lack of righteousness. Religions that serve lesser gods, especially the churches of Satan, where everything practiced is the opposite of that taught by God, while reflecting the same rituals of Roman Catholicism, are wickedness. Was the Temple of Jerusalem not a wicked reproduction of Solomon’s Temple, which God had never sought to be built to house Him? Can this same error of reasoning, where money is praised in the form of lavish building of worship, not be deemed a form of wickedness that is reproduced by many denominations of Christianity?
The aspect of “deceit” surrounded all of the encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees. After Jesus rejected the advances of Nicodemus, most of them pretended to be attempting to counsel Jesus, so he would be a better rabbi. The reality was they were attempting to catch him committing an offense punishable by their laws. Still, their souls were deceiving themselves, leading them away from eternal salvation. They attempted to deceive God as to whom they pretended devotion; all the while God knew their hearts and their devotion to self. Do not the Christian churches deceive themselves, when the passing on of the Holy Spirit is their task, but they have no ability (or intention) to fulfill that task?
The Greek word “aselgeia” is translated as “licentiousness,” which is an excessive sense of freedom to act as one desires, also known as “wantonness.” While the word is used to denote lewd behavior, especially of a sexual and lustful nature, can you see how the Pharisees and scribes took great pleasures in their sense of self-righteousness? Has Christianity not produced its own version of these self-serving flashy pastors, whose presence in the finest clothes and imported colognes sends out signals to those who will faint in their presence? Have not the robes of some Roman Catholic clerics [too many] not been used at the expense of those who trusted them?
The “envy” of the Pharisees is similar to their covetousness of the popularity Jesus had with the people. Still, they were often befuddled by how Jesus turned the tables on their plots and ploys. Jesus had a way of understanding people, in addition to knowing all the laws and Scripture verses the Pharisees and scribes had memorized. That talent in Jesus meant the Pharisees and scribes were envious of the quickness of the Christ Mind that Jesus had. Are not Christians today following the leader, memorizing (as best they can) what someone wrote or said about the meaning of God’s Word, wishing they had the ability to understand like ‘the professionals’? Does that envy not have the same effect that seeks to “kill the messenger,” when a prophet speaks in ‘out of the box’ ways?
The word “slander” has legal ramifications, which means the Pharisees knew well what could be deemed “abusive or scurrilous language, blasphemy.” They listened to what Jesus said intently, waiting for words that were slanderous to the Laws of Moses. Still, were the Pharisees not guilty of slander by speaking out against Jesus, who was the messenger of God, as a prophet? Is it not blasphemy for a professed Christian to speak for Jesus Christ [“Jesus would say _______”], when he or she has not been reborn as Jesus Christ [so Jesus speaks through he or she as “I say ________]?
The element of “pride” is found in the confidence the Pharisees and scribes felt in their self-anointed superiority as the ‘wise men’ of Judea and Galilee. It was the pride that had them speak out against Jesus and his disciples, because had they instead been humble, they would have said nothing. The pride in the minds of those leaders saw the meek as easily controlled and dominated. A prideful mind is too busy seeking self-glorification to ever allow God to be the one to whom all praise and glory is due. Do Christian nations and peoples not display the same sense of superiority to the world, missing the point of being God’s lowly servants?
The Greek word “aphrosynē” is translated as “folly,” but it is better understood as “foolishness.” The word is described as, “senselessness, i.e. (euphemistically) egotism; (morally) recklessness.” This is the “foolishness” that has one thinking any mortal human being is a god, worthy of worship. The Pharisees and scribes were fools to reject Jesus, closing their minds to God’s messenger, who was sent to tell them, “You are going the wrong way.” Fools never listen to good advice until it is too late. How many Christians today are being “foolish” with their souls, when the messages read aloud in churches each Sunday are telling them to stop worshiping at the altar of egotism and sacrifice self for a higher goal?
It should be clear that all of these sins are intertwined as the ‘rope’ of Satan. Allowing one strand to wrap around one’s neck means all the others will be there as well. In the Tarot there is a Major Arcana card that is called “The Devil,” which depicts human beings (a male and a female) bound by the chains that seemingly hold one captive to sin.
Those chains, however, are not tight, meaning freedom is simply a matter of removing the chains and walking away. People’s hearts love sin more than God. The power to lift those chains off one’s shoulders is possible when one receives God in one’s heart. When that happens within, then the outer actions that burst forth are to leave sin and Satan behind, freed by the love of God.
In this reading from Mark, the disciples can be seen as innocent children, happily doing what comes natural to God’s children. Jesus oversees them as their earthly Father, who teaches them values and then lets them be themselves with a heart that is engaged to God. “Children” means a sense of innocence that has not yet let the traps of the world overwhelm them. Thus, their sins are not soul condemning, as much as life lessons and personal experiences that should not be repeated.
Becoming an Apostle or Saint, reborn as Jesus Christ brings about that innocence of childhood. When one acts because God is in one’s heart, one’s brain is not calculating the value of one’s actions – if any good or if any evil will result. One acts as God wills, without a worry in the world.
When one is doing the work of God, one is not judgmental of self or others. However, if someone wants to pick a fight with one of God’s servants, one will speak as did Jesus, so the truth will be known.