Mark 7:1-13 (ESV)
1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Jesus had an interesting encounter with the religious leaders. They asked why he allowed his followers to eat with unwashed or defiled hands. Mark’s readers were primarily Gentile and not completely familiar with Jewish customs. So verses 4 and 5 are a parenthesis for the non-Jewish reader and give explanation about the hand-washing custom. These customs were not found in the Old Testament, but were part of Jewish tradition and considered by most to be as mandatory as God’s law. Since the Jewish people had to deal with Gentiles, they would wash their hands before they ate so that whatever went into their bodies was not “contaminated” by their contact with outsiders. This hand-washing wasn’t to prevent germs, but to prevent interaction with people considered beneath them. Jesus responded to the religious leaders’ question about his disciples’ neglect of hand-washing with an answer they weren’t expecting. In fact, he didn’t even talk about his disciples’ hand washing practice. Instead, he rebuked them for not obeying God’s laws so they could hold on to man-made regulations. He illustrated this by going to the Law of Moses, which commanded that parents be honored. This honor would naturally include financial support of elderly parents. But the religious leaders got out of taking care of their parents by saying their money was “Corban” or “dedicated to God.” In other words, they said, “Oops, Mom and Dad! Sorry you need my help, but I’ve already dedicated all my money to God. After I die, it goes to the temple. Bummer! Really wanted to make it happen, but I can’t.” Jesus said this violated God’s plan for the family and by doing this they were actually reversing God’s law.
Ugh. What a mess. Jesus ended with the words, “And many such things you do.” Think about it. Do we hold fast to man-made customs, traditions, and regulations and end up breaking the law of God as a result? Jesus came for people. God loves people, and Christ died to redeem people. Search your heart today. Are you missing the opportunity to love and serve people because you want to hold on to doing things your way? If so, stop. Let’s make sure that we are honest, humble, and right with God on the “inside” rather than focusing so much on the “outside.” If the inside is right, the outside will fall into place.