Mark 7:1-13 NRSVue

1Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders, 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash, and there are also many other traditions that they observe: the washing of cups and pots and bronze kettles and beds.) 5So 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?” 6He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;

7in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

8“You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

9Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God), 12then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13thus nullifying the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”

Some thoughts on this scripture

Lord, it is different for me. I do not have to face the hundreds of ritual regulations with which the scribes had burdened their religion. But I can still be caught by foolish scruples, which have nothing to do with love, but come from a superstitious fear of regulations. Free my heart for joy and love.

Prayer is time given to God, and this is good in itself. But not the end of the story! Prayer-time introduces us to the side of ourselves which wants to honour God, and purifies us so that we honour him in the way we live as well as in the way we pray. We know whether prayer is fruitful or sincere by the way we live our lives.

Washing one's hands before meals would seem like a good idea. However what is at stake for the Pharisees is ritual purification, not merely hygiene. 'The traditions of the elders' were those injunctions and practices that the Pharisees added to the Law of Moses. Jesus is criticising his opponents for substituting human traditions for divine commandments.

As clean as the Pharisees hands were, they often used them to pick and point, to finger and accuse. I bring my abilities and talents before God and ask for blessing that I may use them for my growth, but not at the expense of others.

Jesus invites me to consider how I follow God in my heart and cautions me against being distracted by human traditions. I review my habits and patterns of activity, asking God to help me to recognise where they lead me to life.