Red Letter Year: 1/29

Mark 7:1-23

One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”

Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips,

    but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition. You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. 10 For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 12 In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13 And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”

14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.”

17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)

20 And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”


Things ratchet up a notch in this passage. Jesus is more direct than he has been to this point, both with the Pharisees and religious leaders and also with his disciples. The core issue here is how the Jewish law (Torah) should be interpreted and lived out. The Jewish religious leaders had a certain way of doing this (later codified in the Talmud – the religious leaders call them “age-old” in v.5, but that claim is rather suspect at the time it was made), instructing people how to apply the commands and wisdom for their own lives. This still goes on today (a friend the other day was amused that his refrigerator had a “Sabbath mode” – that feature helps orthodox Jews live out their interpretation of Torah in the modern world). My point here is not to discuss the merits of various interpretations, but simply to point out that interpretation is always involved.

Both Jesus and the religious leaders are interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures (later called the Old Testament in the Christian Bible). There are two differences between them here that bear noticing. First, Jesus (or at the very least Mark) is open and direct about his teaching being an interpretation of Torah. His point about how the body processes food owes as much to the observation of nature as it does a study of Scripture. For Jesus, an interpretation of Scripture that does not make sense with what we know of how the world works is faulty. The Pharisees and religious leaders don’t approach this as a discussion of different interpretations. They think theirs is the only way to read Torah, they deem their interpretation to be no interpretation at all, but a literal keeping of God’s law. It’s hard to tell who they are working harder to convince of their certainty, others or themselves. In the same way, our own readings always involve interpretation. To think otherwise is foolish and dangerous.

Second, the interpretation that Jesus offers is one that focuses on what is more essential, what will make the biggest difference in changing a person’s life from one characterized by vice to one of virtue, from sickness to healing, from death to life. His opponents regularly ignore or dismiss all the good Jesus does to focus on the small ways he is breaking their customs. (You may remember, we noticed before that Jesus seemed to go out of his way to do this on occasion.) Their interpretation places further restrictions on people, but are not capable of growing people into spiritual maturity, only suppressing them. Both Jesus and the religious leaders are out to create certain habits in their followers. Jesus argues that his are life-giving. They are, so long as we don’t misinterpret Jesus and make his way just another ritual of suppression.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 1/28

Mark 6:45-56

45 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and head across the lake to Bethsaida, while he sent the people home. 46 After telling everyone good-bye, he went up into the hills by himself to pray.

47 Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. 48 He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. 50 They were all terrified when they saw him.

But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” 51 Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, 52 for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.

53 After they had crossed the lake, they landed at Gennesaret. They brought the boat to shore 54 and climbed out. The people recognized Jesus at once, 55 and they ran throughout the whole area, carrying sick people on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 Wherever he went—in villages, cities, or the countryside—they brought the sick out to the marketplaces. They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed.


The story of the woman who fought through the crowd, touched the hem of Jesus’robe and was healed has gotten around fast. People on the other side of the lake have taken up this same successful strategy. The disciples, meanwhile, are still having a hard time understanding. They have already seen Jesus calm an angry storm, feed thousands with very little food, raise a girl from the dead, and heal many, many people. But they still react with great fear and amazement. But that doesn’t stop Jesus from coming to their aid, filling them with courage and peace, and fixing their predicament. That they were in the middle of a lake didn’t stop Jesus either.

In the same way, nothing will stand in the way of Jesus coming to your rescue. Paul said it like this in Romans 8:38-39: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Think of that statement and picture Jesus walking over whatever is troubling you, walking to get to you. Coming to your rescue. He does that. Because he loves you.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.