Sermon Summary | "A Defining Moment"
1. Charge of the Pharisees and Scribes (7:1-5)
2. Indictment of Jesus (7:6-13)
1. Charge of Pharisees and Scribes (7:1-5)
Opposition against Jesus has been a reoccurring theme throughout the gospel, but here the hostility escalates. The confrontation between the Jewish leaders and Jesus stand in stark contrast with the previous section. Chapter 6 concluded with a description of Jesus’ popularity among the people (6:53-56). However, the rise of acclaim from the people is juxtaposed with the antagonism of the Jewish leaders (7:1-5).
Here, the Jewish leaders are again identified as “the Pharisees” and “Scribes who had come from Jerusalem” (7:1). The last instance Mark mentions the Pharisee and Scribes was in chapter 3, where the Pharisees were present in order to accuse Jesus for breaking the Sabbath laws (3:1-6). Moreover, the Scribes “from Jerusalem” asserted that Jesus was demon-possessed (3:22). The antagonists now reappear in order to charge Jesus with breaking the customs of cleanliness and food laws (7:2).
In verses 3-4 Mark provides a parenthesis, describing the Jewish custom for ritual cleanliness according to the “tradition of the elders” (7:3; cf. 7:5). The practice of food laws (e.g., Lev 11; 17) and the concept of ritual purity, in general, were of central importance to the Jewish culture and identity. Adherence to dietary laws functioned to demarcate the people of God from other cultures (see France, Mark, 277). Thus, the ceremonial washing of hands was not simply a matter of hygiene, but of holiness.
Verse 5 resumes the initial statement (in verses 1-2) with an accusation from the Jewish leaders. The leaders grumble over the disciples’ lack of compliance to the “traditions of the elders.” Throughout the passage, Jesus will expose the true origin of this “tradition”. It is called the “tradition of man” in verse 8, showing it has a human (not divine) origin. In verses 9 and 13, it is called “your tradition,” disclosing that it is perpetuated by the religious leaders, who handed down their own beliefs and not the commands of God.
2. Indictment Against Pharisees and Scribes (7:6-13)
Jesus’ response to the charges of the Pharisees and Scribes is given in verses 6-13. Surprisingly, he gives no reference or point of discussion about his disciples. Instead, he quickly indicts the religious leaders for their false piety. Quoting from the Old Testament, Jesus illustrates how they have rejected the commandment of God in order to uphold their own tradition.
The first scripture Jesus employs is from Isaiah 29:13, which describes their devotion as a concern for external aptitude according to their own rituals. Their act of honoring God is merely lip service, since their heart is distant from fidelity to God’s commands (7:6). Deeds of worship are vain, since they teach their own commands with doctrinal authority (7:7). Jesus indicts their religious practices because they inversely reject the commandment of God, so that they can uphold their own tradition (7:8-9).
He then gives a second reference from scripture to support his claims, this time explicitly contrasting the claims of the Jewish leaders with the prophet Moses (7:10-13). Drawing from Exodus 20:12 (cf. Deut 5:16) with the addition of Exodus 21:17, Jesus further illustrates how their maintenance of man-made traditions undermines true obedience to God’s commands. Instead of following the instructions of the fifth commandment (i.e., “honor your father and mother”), external traditions made it possible to allow a son to disobey the law of God (via Corban). They thus render the word of God void with the continual practice of their traditions (7:13).
Opposition has been a reoccurring theme throughout this Gospel. Here, the hostility of the religious leaders escalates against Jesus, anticipating his death. The mention of these antagonistic leaders “from Jerusalem” foreshadows the climactic act of hostility, the crucifixion of the Son of God in Jerusalem. However, the irony in the Gospel of Mark is that hostility does not hinder the purposes of God, but fulfills it. Opposition does not overcome God’s plan. The cross not only shows the ultimate act of opposition, but the power of the gospel.
[by Andrew Preston]