Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mark 7:1-5, 20-23 (NRSV): What Truly Matters?

Mark 7:1-5, 20-23 (NRSV): What Truly Matters?

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.”
… And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come ... All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

I have a confession to make: I am a former legalist, a former doctrinal specialist, a former Pharisee. Once I first truly came to Christ, and I am not talking about at the baptismal font but when I first said “yes” to His prompting of love, I envisioned a life of discipleship as a vast area of learning about and sticking to doctrine. If it was doctrinally in Scripture and tradition, I wanted to know about it and enmesh it in my life. As you can imagine, I quickly hit a life-sized, spiritual wall.  In my zeal to know more about Jesus and His church, I was failing to nurture our relationship, a relationship that is built on His grace, mercy, and love. I was the Pharisee in this Scripture asking myself, and indirectly others, “Why do [you] not live according to the tradition of the elders…?”

Through life experience, grace, and prayer, God reveals that human tradition is without meaning if it is void of His love and mercy.  Jesus exemplifies this throughout the Gospels, and it is ingrained in all of His teachings. How could I have missed it?

This weekend, my son asked if we could go to his favorite restaurant for lunch. Although we were at the end of our summer budget, we agreed and had a delicious meal together.  During our meal, however, there was a raucous, inappropriate conversation taking place at an adjacent table.  The group, comprised of adults, was loud and their content and language were not conducive to family dining.  “From within,” I became enraged and began internally railing against these patrons, casting burning looks of implied judgment toward my wife: We were thinking the same thing.

I had an epiphany.  In the midst of my “evil intentions,” God was calling me to not hate but to pray for these people. Admittedly, I did not want to, but it felt necessary. When we got into the van and later returned home, my son and I had a conversation about how difficult it can be to love others unconditionally.

It is so easy and satisfying to judge others and think through the lens of condemnation, but Christ demands that we slough off our evil intentions and stick to what truly matters, mercifully loving others even in the face of offense and irritation. Thankfully, I am still Christ’s work in progress and desperately dependent on His grace.

May you all be blessed and encouraged in the love and peace of Christ.