Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, August 29, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 14

Pentecost 14, 2021
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In the first five books of the Bible (called the Torah in the Jewish faith), there are a total of 613 laws given by God to the Hebrew people.  I didn’t count them all, but I did look that up:  613 specific laws to be followed.  In today’s first reading, from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is setting the groundwork for the identity of God’s chosen people.  He explains to them why they need to follow all the laws that have been handed down to them.

He says, by observing God’s laws diligently,
. . . This will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

In other words, following these 613 laws reflects back on how good God is.  People will know that God is great because the Hebrew people have these 613 laws, which nobody else has.  You could think of it like how parents  get the credit when their children behave.  We say that well-behaved children come from good parents.  On the other hand, what kind of parent lets their kid run through the grocery store smashing bottles of syrup on the floor?  When our children behave, it brings us honor.  In the same way, if the Israelites follow these 613 rules, God will be glorified.

So, the Law of Moses, as we sometimes call it, has two important functions.  First, it identifies God’s people as being distinctly different from their neighbors.  Only they have received these rules, because of their special relationship with God.  And second, the Law of Moses glorifies God.  Special people, special God.

Now let’s turn to the gospel reading, from Mark.  We’re pretty familiar with this sort of situation by now.  Jesus and his disciples are living their lives, eating food, teaching, healing the sick and so on, and along come the scribes and pharisees to tell them they’re not doing it right.  And by “not doing it right,” they’re specially thinking of those 613 laws handed down to them by Moses.

We heard a few of them in the reading:  For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.

Of course, that little section about not washing their hands is extra uncomfortable for us during this seemingly never-ending pandemic.  But let’s leave that aside.  I just want to be sure we can see where the Pharisees are coming from here.  If the Law of Moses, those 613 rules serve to identify God’s people and to glorify God, then every Jew needed to be following them.  When the Pharisees see someone not following the rules, they know that it reflects poorly on God, like the kid running through the grocery store breaking things.  Follow the rules so God will be praised.

So, we can’t fault the pharisees for their criticism.  They are honestly trying to do the right thing by getting the disciples to follow the rules.  But then we have to ask, what’s going on here?  Shouldn’t Jesus be on the side of the pharisees?  Well, the first thing we have to do is talk about the theological heresy of supersessionism.  I know, you were hoping I’d get right on that.

I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating.  In a nutshell, supersessionism is the belief that Christianity replaces, or supersedes the Jewish faith . . . and, in extreme cases, replaces the Jewish people.  This is dangerous, and this is also heresy.

Hearing that first reading from Deuteronomy paired up with the gospel reading we just heard, if we’re not careful, we can misinterpret that to mean that Jesus has replaced the faith of the Jews with the faith of Christianity.  Again, as though Christianity is the one exclusive religion, and it somehow supersedes the Jewish faith.  And, in fact, this story in Mark has been used to claim exactly that.  And this is called supersessionism.

There is a way of thinking among some Christians that everything in what we call the Old Testament was just setup for the New Testament.  Like the Jewish faith was just a placeholder for the Christian faith.  Supersessionism is heresy.  And anyone who proclaims this is a heretic.  

The Jews did not stop being God’s chosen people when Jesus showed up.  For one thing, Jesus himself was a Jew, as were all twelve of the disciples.  Jesus says he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill the Law.  The Jewish faith informs our faith, and we can only understand Christianity by keeping one eye on Judaism.  One way to think of it is that Christianity is grafted onto Judaism, not the other way around.

So, all that said, here’s what I think we need to look at in this story of Jesus and the disciples and the pharisees.  The word “some.”  The pharisees noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands.  The text doesn’t say that Jesus was eating with defiled hands, or that all the disciples were eating with defiled hands.  But some of them were eating with defiled hands.

So Jesus faces a choice here.  He could throw out the disciples for not following the rules, or make them follow the rules, but he doesn’t.  Rather than make the circle smaller, Jesus makes it bigger.  Rather than judge and exclude some, Jesus brings in everyone.  The Pharisees want to keep some people out, but Jesus has the opposite message:  All are welcome.  Regardless.

Jesus is showing us a new way to live in this gospel lesson.  Expand the circle.  Welcome the outcasts.  Reach out to those in need.  Love God and love your neighbor.  And when we do those things, we show that we are God’s people too, and we also give glory to God.  May God inspire us to keep expanding the circle, until everyone knows and trusts that they are loved and accepted.


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