The Heart of the Matter

Mark 7:1-23 It happened again! Jesus and his men weren’t conforming to the rules that had been established in Jewish society and once again they were in direct conflict with the leaders. The leaders of the day seemed to enjoy watching Jesus and the disciples to find reason to accuse and discredit them. In a previous confrontation the issue had been gleaning kernels of wheat for a snack as they walked in the fields on the Sabbath, that was work and therefore forbidden (Mark 2:23). This time it was the issue of washing of hands before eating. Strange how it’s around the issue of food that there’s conflict again. 

Jesus has already seen through the accusations of the religious elite and quickly identifies the true source of their problem. For Jesus the issue here wasn’t about clean or dirty hands or even clean or unclean food. No the problem was that the Pharisees had built up a whole system of rules to live by that went beyond the Law that God had given. They had failed to understand the heart of the Law and only been looking at the letters. In doing so they had gone further and created many more laws that burdened the people and led them away from the heart of what God had established. The heart of the Law being what Jesus pointed out in the days ahead in Mark 12:30 “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

From what Jesus is saying in Mark 7 the Pharisees were saying that people did evil because of their unclean practices. Their evil came from being ceremonially unclean, so all that was required was to change the outward practices and the evil would be dealt with. Of course the problem is that the Law tells us that we are totally powerless in doing that, we’re unable to live a pure life. Jesus turns this thinking upside down by saying that it’s on the inside were the uncleanliness is found. What we’re taking in on the inside, into our hearts, causes us to do evil. So fix what’s going into the heart and what comes out will be taken care of.

Jesus desire is to see people return to the heart of the Law, loving God with all their heart because when we do that the rest all falls into place. Suddenly what is going into the heart is good which means that what comes out is good too. It’s almost automatic that we begin to do good to others, loving our neighbour as ourself. What the Pharisees had done was to make the people think that keeping the letter of the law was more important than understanding the heart of the Law. If the people did that the Pharisees would lose their place of power.
Jesus brought a change in thinking that disrupted the established patterns of the day. The focus in the Kingdom then becomes our relationship with God and not what what we are doing or being. Our cleanliness comes from that relationship.

It would be healthy for us to think about what it is that we do that keeps disciples from following the heart of God? Are we guilty of being Pharisees too? It’s important that we allow each other to have their relationship with God first.

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