Mark XIII: Defiled Hands, Defiled Hearts - Mark 6:45-7:23

Mark 6:45-7:23 gives us a mini recap of Jesus’ ministry – we see him working miracles, healing, and teaching, piling up more and more evidence that He is indeed the Son of God and the Messiah. Just after the feeding of the 5000, Jesus sends His disciples across the sea of Galilee towards Bethsaida, and joins them later in the middle of the storm, walking beside them on the water, much to their shock and amazement. After landing, Jesus is thronged by crowds seeking to be healed. We’ve seen a bread-from-heaven miracle and a supernatural sea-crossing followed by healings. Mark 6 is full of Exodus echoes, as Jesus feeds, leads, and heals the people of God in a way that goes beyond even Moses himself.

Unfortunately, the disciples miss this, because they missed the first clue: they didn’t understand about the bread, and their hearts were hardened. Mark is highlighting the fact that at this point in the gospel, the disciples are still closer to the Pharisees in chapter 7 than they are to understanding Jesus. Both disciples and Pharisees have a heart problem. What this means in terms of Mark’s gospel is that even if you’ve followed Jesus, listened to Jesus, and even ministered in Jesus’ name, you still need to follow Jesus all the way to the cross, which is where the disciples’ hard hearts will finally be broken so that Jesus can make them new.

But as much as Jesus has embodied a new and better version of Moses in chapter 6, the Pharisees have very different ideas about how God’s people should be led. And so the first part of chapter 7 contains a battle over who fulfills the role of Moses in the life of God’s people: will it be Jesus, or the Pharisees?

And the flashpoint of the conflict had to do with the cleanliness regulations that the Pharisees had built up around God’s law. They complained that Jesus’ disciples ate with defiled hands, blurring the line between Jew and Gentile, holy and profane, clean and unclean. Jesus responded by showing that the Pharisees had defiled hearts, and that that was a problem deeper than any cleanliness rules could ever fix. And in doing this, Jesus pointed to the end goal of the God’s laws concerning clean and unclean, and to the need for Jesus’ own heart-cleansing work. Now that Jesus has come to bring true cleansing, the old clean/unclean distinctions are no longer needed.

The Pharisees misunderstood the law of God so deeply that they sought to extend it further and further, not only binding people with unbearably heavy burdens, but actually emptying out and leaving behind the Word of God in the process. They lost sight of God’s law and its purpose under the pile of traditions that they had heaped up on top of it. Those who followed the Pharisees saw only man-made traditions instead of God’s commandments. The reason that this was so tragic and so serious as to provoke a strong and severe rebuke from Jesus was that God’s commandments were sign-posts leading to Jesus, while the traditions of the Pharisees only pointed back to the Pharisees. Thus, when God came in the person of Jesus, all the Pharisees saw was a troublemaker who scorned their traditions, rather than the one to whom the law of God had been guiding people towards all along.

And so after refuting the Pharisees like a new Moses confronting Pharaoh, Jesus called all the people to Himself and set them free by declaring all foods clean. All the previous rules about washings and sacrifices and clean and unclean animals were fulfilled in Jesus. External rules can’t cleanse or save, and they were never meant to. God’s cleanliness rules were meant to reveal Jesus, the one who came to make the whole world clean, not just cups and pots, but even down to sinful human hearts.

Jesus cleared away man-made traditions so that we could truly see where God’s laws about cleanliness and defilement were pointing: He came to show us our defiled hearts, and to lead us to the cross where His blood would wash us clean forever. May we all hear Jesus’ words, and understand.

Posted on Thursday, June 14, 2018 by CJ Bowen