Mark Part XXVIII - Real Purity (7:14-23)
In the text last week, Jesus vindicated Himself as the legitimate heir of Moses and demonstrated that, though the scribes and Pharisees claimed to speak for him, claimed to be his legitimate heirs, they were not. Their traditions actually undermined the commandments of God.
Today, Jesus returns to their opening question about ritual purity. “Why don’t your disciples wash their hands in accordance with the tradition of the elders?” But Jesus’ response extends beyond that specific issue to the principle involved.
Jesus’ response revolves around the question: What was the message of the ritual purity laws in the OT? What was the significance of these various rites – whether they were priestly washings or dietary restrictions or clothing restrictions or plowing restrictions? What was the message of the various laws of ritual purity?
For the Pharisees the message was that external purity makes one acceptable to God. The more ritual purity one possesses, the closer one comes to God. And so they took the regulations that were given to the priests – the highest level of acceptance – and spread those throughout society. If everyone is at this state of acceptance with God, then all will be well. God will have to accept us.
Jesus, in response, insists that ritual purity in the law was given as a symbolic reminder of the need for something far more needful and far more drastic – internal purity, purity of heart. The ritual purity did not make one acceptable to God in and of itself – it was an external expression practiced and embraced by those who loved the Lord, who already possessed internal purity. Without purity of heart, ritual purity meant nothing. Ritual purity could not accomplish or secure purity of heart. Thus the principle thing is the purity of heart not the ritual purity. The purity of heart is the essence; the ritual purity the accident. And Jesus’ words have all kinds of implications for the Church today.
Stuart Bryan is the pastor of Trinity Church. He and his wife, Paige, have seven children, four homegrown, two adopted from the lovely land of Guatemala, and one adopted from Ukraine. Stuart earned his B.A. in Religion from Whitworth College and his M.A. in Theological and Historical Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.