7:1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they 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, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and 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. ) 5 And 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?” 6 And 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;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.
’ 11 But 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) — 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Mark 7:1-13 (ESV)
In vain to they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. “you leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.
It is too often a trap for us. That traditions of men begin to replace the word of God. Today for example we might think of modern notions of egality, equality and tolerance that have infiltrated many areas of the church so that the LCMS is depicted as ugly for not ordaining women when God’s word is fairly clear that women should not be ordained, that is made to be pastors. The blessing of homosexual relationship is another area where one might see the commandments of men being taught as doctrines. But then looking on the inside we might notice other things in relation to our own piety. It is often the case that in order to look morally upright we replace God’s law with our own. We might think a person to be a good influence for instance if they don’t drink, smoke or cuss, regardless of the fact that they are prone to gossiping, fornication, and slander, when scripture says nothing in particular about drinking, smoking or cussing, but has a lot to say about gossiping, fornication and slander. These days you can get away with saying whatever you want if you don’t use the seven forbidden words from George Carlin’s skit. Truth be told the case could be made that to translate scripture accurately you would need to use many of those words too. The tendency is to sort of water down God’s law, from which we aren’t to part from to the left or to the right, to say Lord this is too hard. I can’t possibly keep my mouth shut concerning so and so, but hey, at least I don’t cuss. God’s law is hard so we replace it with things we can do. This is what the Pharisees had done. We think if we can pull the wool over our neighbors eyes we can pull it over God eyes. We can’t. No, we can’t do it, but Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world does, when he clothes us in his righteousness washing us with his blood to make us white as snow through baptism.
See this is what the Pharisees are doing. In essence they replace God’s word with their own. In the Old Testament it was about being clean and unclean. There were all sorts of things that could make a person unclean and therefore unworthy to approach God in the temple. Touching a corpse for instance, which is why the priest passes by the man beaten robbed and left for dead on the road to Jericho when the good Samaritan stops. Being with unclean people could make you unclean which is why priests needed to have their wives separated from them for once a month when they were unclean do to the menstrual cycle. Which is why the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years was so afraid to admit that she was the one who touched the robe of Jesus. It was considered in poor taste for someone in her condition to be out in public contaminating others, definitely she should not be touching them. But Jesus has mercy. His cleanliness is not his concern, he comes to make you clean. In the O.T. it was of paramount importance that the priests keep themselves clean. They were the ones who had to work in the temple. God prescribed all sorts of ways for them to make themselves clean. Much of it had to do with ceremonial washings, often referred to as baptisms in the Greek. For instance here in our text where it talks of washing couches, the word is actually baptism. It had that is to say not always the meaning of immersion as many who today would replace the commandment of God with the traditions of men would have you believe. But the Pharisees who could not uphold God’s law in the first place sought to go an extra mile and uphold the priestly rights of purity even when they would not be going to the Temple or even the synagogue. They would part from God’s law by taking the right fork rather than the left. Making it “stricter” rather than “looser.” But as so often, this sort of thing was really just a snow job for doing that which God’s law forbade, or for ignoring God’s law altogether. Jesus points this out with Korban.
A person was called to honor his mother and father. This meant taking care of them in their old age in a society that new nothing of retirement plans or social security. The retirement plan was your children, especially your sons since they were the only ones who could really manage to work and make money. It was the kind of society where Grandma and Grandpa were in the home with their grandchildren. They would even raise the grand children in effect because the parents were too busy trying to support the family. But as is often the case, children and parents don’t often get along. Sometimes a child would for whatever reason not want to support his parents. He could do this by just giving what would prophet the parents, what it would take to support the parents, to the temple. In reality he could live on that while he was alive, off the interest of it, and the capital would go to the temple when he died. It was an investment scheme. And his parents would have to fend for themselves. But honoring your mother and father isn’t something you are supposed to do only if your parents are the greatest on earth. It is something you are supposed to do. We think of this often as something that is more or less done with when you are 18 and out of the house. In the old testament, in Jesus day, and in ours too for that matter, it has much more to do with when you are 18 and older than it does with you cleaning your room. But these are the games we play with God’s law. Giving it lip service, saying the Bible is our favorite book, when as Kierkegaard notes, it would horrify us if we actually read it. It would challenge our sensitivities and our morality, our sense of self-worth and righteousness.
Many such things you do Jesus says. Do we honor God with our lips, though our hearts are far from him? He knows it. We make ourselves unclean as we try to justify ourselves before man and God in vain attempts at worship. And it would all be vain if not for Christ. But Christ introduces a new baptism, Christ sanctifies and washes us clean with the water and the word showering us with his love. No, not the ritual washings of vain attempts, but the Baptism of Christ through which we are raised to the newness of life that walking in the resurrection we might bless others rather than ourselves.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.