Mark 7:1-23 (Jesus Confronts Traditions) Series: From my head to the Heart
I don’t know if he thought it worked, but in my opinion it was a complete flop. In my early youth, I remember my dad trying to put up, His Simba after the first one had collapsed. This was one of my most memorable encounter with some of our Luo traditions. That night we all had to sleep away from the compound, and very early in the morning at around 5 am, I remember my mother waking us up and lining us in order of birth behind our father and heading towards the grounds. After my dad hit the first stake, the green light was given. I also noticed that my first born brother had to also do things first before us, taste the food, some special parts reserved for him. But the climax, was when the house was incomplete then it poured heavily. I was in shock to learn that part of the tradition is that we are not to share a house with my mum and dad, while they had to sleep in the newly constructed and half -finished house. They had just put up the iron sheet over them. We their sons on the other hand were to find a space within the same compound and put up for the night. The tent they gave us and a mattress were embarrassing to say the least. That was one long night. Eventually we snuck into a nearby posho mill, suspended the half wet mattress over some wooden planks from the wet floor and shared the night with the many rats that peered through the lintel of the posho- mill. That was it….the next day my big bro took off to Nairobi and left us to continue in the misery of our traditions. For some time, I struggled going back to my ushago.
This month we have themed our series: From the Head to the Heart. Perhaps one of the longest and most difficult journeys is the distance between our heads and our hearts. We are praying that we move from just having an intellectual opinion about Jesus in our heads, and deep into believing Jesus. In these chapters we will be looking at, Jesus will confront personally. Today Jesus confronts our traditions, customs and patterns and how these can be a barrier and obstacle between our heads and our hearts. My Thesis today: Jesus wants us whole, Jesus wants us real, and Jesus wants us vulnerable to Him.
Read Mark 7:1-23 (Exegesis)
Jesus had become popular not only among the poor and lowly in the community, but his fame had now caught the attention of the high and mighty in the Palestinian province. His public miracles, teachings and claims were ‘bold and out of the box’ for many. Jesus was now in their face so to speak- and as we said last time- You either held an opinion of him, believed him or not- but you could not ignore him.
The prominent Pharisees and Teachers of the law sent a delegation of investigators to look into this Man- Jesus. The Pharisees were a strict group of religious Jews who advocated obedience to the minutest portions of the Jewish law and traditions. They were very influential in the places of Jewish worship (synagogues). They had a hard time accepting Jesus as the promised Messiah because he did not follow their traditions and associated with notoriously wicked people.
On the other hand, the teachers of the law, were professional interpreters of the Law of Moses. They particularly took offence at Jesus claims to place himself above Moses and the Mosaic Law.
This delegation came to Jesus home town in Galilee from their headquarters in Jerusalem to check up on him. They quickly noticed and observed with guile how some of the disciples of Jesus- failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing ceremony before eating. To understand how they felt:
Meal time on a Jewish table is a very special engagement. The table signified a high level of communion among the participants equated to their worship at the temple. Washing hands before a meal was not just a hygienic practice, but a practice borrowed from the Jewish Altar that cleansed the participants of any unclean or impure contact they had made that would compromise the communion. Even when the hands are physically clean they are still required to be ritually washed. This they did especially because of the nature of contacts one would have had in the market place- Hand-shakes with sinners, contact with dead things e.t.c. This also extended to some of the vessels they used during meal times such as the cups and kettles.
So they openly asked Jesus to explain this rebellion against their Traditions.
Human beings are deeply religious and heavily bound by tradition. One author puts it this way Humankind is ‘incurably religious’ another says Human life is one big religion. Traditions are customs we pick up and learn as we grow that have come to shape us (shape our values, and perception to things) and have defined some sense of Norm and in turn we pass them on and affirm them to others. Traditions and customs are the back bone of religion. When a custom or tradition becomes almost unthinkable to break- it becomes sacred and becomes a religion. Social scientists have classified traditions from various cultures e.g African traditions, Americans e.t.c.
But traditions and religious practices is perhaps our biggest barrier to appropriating Jesus and fully believing in Him. These cultural patterns even for many Christians make us to live small for Jesus. Our fears, hopes and dreams are heavily hidden in our traditions and cultures.
I live next to a Thingira- a Kikuyu house of elders to preserve their cultures- I met one of the elders- who told me “of course I am a Christian, I go to church but we are Africans- we cannot abandon our god entirely for the missionary god”
The reason is we are told our traditions and cultures are in our blood- Mimi ni mkikuyu damu, the problem comes in when there is a blood transfusion. How much of Jesus blood has washed off your blood. Do you see the conflict?
How about you- What are some patterns, customs or traditions that you hold dear? What are some repetitive behaviors that you may have that are anchored in some of these traditions. What are those things that you find arguing about with your spouse or family members? Those practices that have given people brands in your families? The undertones around funerals, weddings and other community functions. They may not be deeply rooted, but what are repetitive things that you feel define your norm? Can humans exist without traditions?
Some traditions betray our shallow faith in Jesus. Remember Dr. Larry’s picture- our faith is in portions, we miss the whole picture.
Jesus rebukes the Pharisees harshly at their inquiry. Read Vs 6 quoting from Isaiah 29:13
A hypocrite: is one who says this and in this heart means another. In other words a disconnect between what he is in the head and who He is in the heart.
These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me:
Jesus warns us against hypocrisy hidden in traditions and cultures. These people had learnt the art of saying and doing the right things. They had learnt to recite the prayers from memory, they had learnt the routines but God warns them against trying to deceive him.
Our Christian walk can be hypocritical- when we hide even in some of the best traditions and practices in the church. We can learn the songs, the routines, we can recite the creeds, we can be doing things just right- but then our hearts can be far.
Like the good teacher- who kept the law and asked Jesus what must I need to get into the kingdom? It was difficult for him. Traditions and cultures hide us away from allowing Jesus to confront us and change us. Like Adam, we think we can hide from God.
Traditions can hinder us from becoming vulnerable to God. They harden our hearts in pride- like the King who was told to go and deep himself seven times for him to receive his healing. Men, we are told we should not cry- it is against the grain- but our healing begins to flow when our true tears flow before God. There a lot of wounds we carry, shame, deceit, fear but traditions keep us from opening up to God. We keep it in the head and will try hard to protect the heart.
Unfortunately we also relate with each other from the prisons of traditions. Our mouths do not say what is in our hearts. Many conflicts we deal with in our relationships are not about what we think they are. There are much deeper issues. Issues of pride, insecurity and image crisis. So we hide by blaming others. Like Adam did.
A question I ask often- If Jesus was coming to your house, would you clean it up?- A good African will say yes, because our culture highly recommends such treatment to a guest. We put a show- but really if Jesus was to come into my house and my heart- why would I want to clean, of what detergent or soap can I clean with- if He is the perfect detergent and cleaner- Instead I open it up and reveal all the dirt.
But secondly Read- Vs 7 Traditions can be an intellectual response to spiritual realities.
We can remain at Intellectual approach to faith (knowledge and experts) not practical approach to faith. We become so concerned with the right and wrong that we never get to doing/obedience. Like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, they missed Jesus, they missed the whole point- though they had the law that spoke about him. They dissected it day and night, they memorized it, they interpreted it but they missed Jesus. Instead those who simply believed were healed.
It is a common thing among the learned. Sometimes we miss the joy of simple faith and miracles that Jesus wants to do because we get into our tradition box of education. We get into that box of right and wrong. Jesus walks on water- becomes Jesus defies the laws of physics and so we study physics harder to understand why. We investigate like the Pharisees. It is not to say we believe blindly, but our faith grows stronger not when we investigate what was said, but when we obey what was said.
But also Jesus warns us- a heart that is rooted in tradition can fall into the temptation to side stepping God’s law or biblical teaching in order to defend their traditions. For the Pharisees and Teachers of the law- traditions and keeping the law fed them. They ate from the bread of the altar. So they emphasized on laws/traditions that favored them, to the point that people disregarded the needy and their parents to give to ‘God’.
Scripture records “The heart of man is deceitful and wicked above all things”
Some traditions favor us- they favor men or women in a particular way and sometimes at the sacrifice of others. Traditions and Religions have ‘Man at the center’ faith has God at the center. When Man is at the Centre we will struggle to resist change or silence any rising opposition. Some of our leaders are still in power and go all the way to bend laws to keep them in power, because their tradition is that I have always been in power, that’s the only way I know things happen.
Yet, when we learn that there are times to exalt others before ourselves we build not just others but the nation. This is the worship God desires. To remember the needy and broken. When we come to surrender our favorite seats to the least, when we forego our rights to allow others to see God clearly.
I must warn here that some of the traditions from the West- have also seeped into our Churches and walk of faith. The western culture that exalts freedom and individuality have interfered with our faith. We falsely confuse the Freedom given to us through Christ to be the irresponsible freedom that is exalted by the west.
We resist accountability before other believers- because we claim we are free from judgements. We say “only God can judge me’. The extremes are obvious:
We live by- If we both agree and it brings harm to no one then its ok- Like sex before marriage. I have heard many Christians in the West who have no shame about this.
Traditions can also be defended by democracy. The voice of the mass is not always the voice of God. The voice of the mass will defend Human rights but the voice of God breaks our rights. Our faith is such that I can be one among many but chose what is godly.
We must Learn to live by 1 Sam 16: 17- For God sees not as man sees, man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.
Lastly- Jesus teaches in vs: 15 Read
You are what you eat- is a common saying that implies a man’s well- being is largely as a result of what he consumes. A man is not what He eats, But what eats Him. Jesus here says ‘A man is not what He eats, but what eats him’
He turns now to the crowd and emphasizes in the hearing of the delegation of Pharisees and teachers of the law. It is not what goes into your body that defiles you but what comes out of your body.
Too often we are treating the symptoms and not the core. What is eating you? From deep down. Tradition can be eating you and keeping you from believing Jesus.
Read Vs 20. Sin is deep down, we cannot cure sin by surface medication, we cannot cure sin by traditions- Jesus goes deep into our sins, he goes past our wounds, our traditions and cultures and restores us to Himself. His LIFE in us becomes the new blood that can truly change us.
So how do we weaken our bondage of tradition and culture and religion-?
Read: Rom 12:1-2
Let Jesus be your new tradition, Let Jesus be your new norm. Be broken every day against Jesus, be built every day on Jesus. Engage every day’s issues with God’s word- know it, practice it. God’s LIFE in you is your only tradition. Jesus wants you whole, Jesus wants you real, Jesus wants you vulnerable.
Let’s pray- Confess some of your traditions that hinder you from experiencing Jesus fully
Repent of these things, Confess Jesus as Lord and your LIFE.
- What are some of the traditions or patterns you have observed in your life that you hold knowingly or unknowingly
- How do they affect your walk with God and what do you sense Jesus saying to you about them
- What steps is the Lord leading you to take-
What symbols of traditions do you need to discard-
- Who can keep you accountable