The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity — the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is August 29, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him,

7:2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.

7:3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders;

7:4 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.)

7:5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

7:6 He 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;

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

7:8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

7:14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand:

7:15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

7:21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder,

7:22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.

7:23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This episode in the ministry of Jesus comes after the events of John 6, which concluded last week.

John MacArthur explains:

We have just come from some events in the ministry of Jesus that mark the peak of His popularity. A sort of peak event is described in [Mark’s] chapter 6, the feeding of the, let’s say, twenty-five thousand people. Jesus created fish and crackers out of His own hands, fed them all, and they collected twelve baskets to feed the twelve apostles. It is a miracle of power, creative power, and a miracle of amazing precision. Just exactly enough and twelve left over to feed the apostles.

This massive miracle stunned the crowd. And according to John – all four gospels record that miracle. According to John’s gospel, they were so overwhelmed by this that they wanted to make Him the king by force. This is the apex of His popularity. He refuses that shallow, superficial, self-interested effort to make Him king so that they could continue to benefit from His powers without necessarily believing His message. He refused that. And He said, “I would rather talk about the bread of life, spiritual things far more important than these physical things.”

They wanted nothing to do with that. In that same chapter in John, it tells the story of them wanting to make Him a king, ends with the comment that many of His disciples left Him and walked no more with Him. They went away when He told them the issues that He was concerned about were spiritual and not material. They were materialists. They were religious materialists. Their religion was superficial, not from the heart. Superficial religion doesn’t change the heart. They were materialists at heart and they were supernaturalists in their ceremonies. But in any case, they did not love God nor worship Him from the heart. They didn’t hate their own sin, they didn’t embrace Jesus as the Redeemer and the Savior

His popularity then begins to fade, and the work of the scribes and Pharisees to discredit Him is beginning to gain momentum. In fact, we know the timing of this because John 6 says it was around the Passover that He fed that crowd, probably preliminary to the Passover. So we know it’s a year now from His death. The Galilean ministry is coming to its end. During that last year of ministry, He spends His time training the twelve.

Well, here a conflict occurs that probably happened a lot – a lot. We can’t assume that this a rare occasion but more likely this is a common occasion. Maybe the issue shifted a little bit. Maybe it was on this issue as well other times, but He was in constant conflict with the leaders of Israel embodied in the scribes and Pharisees.

The Pharisees and some of the scribes came from Jerusalem to gather around Jesus (verse 1).

MacArthur surmises that the Galilean leaders wanted support from the temple:

Very prestigious group, no doubt requested by Galilean counterparts who needed some help to discredit Jesus and wanted the experts from Jerusalem to show up. They are legalistic, self-righteous, external, hypocritical, phony, religious members of the establishment. They are of their father, the devil, full of hate for the truth, hate for the Son of God, purveyors of lies. They are the darkness and they hate the light. They come from Jerusalem, which means they have more prestige than anybody else. They want Jesus dead, and they’re looking for more ways to make sure that can happen, things for which to indict Him. And the battle intensifies. This is a head-on collision between true and heart religion and false and external religion.

The leaders from Jerusalem pointed out that our Lord’s disciples had not washed their hands before eating (verse 2).

The Jews had many traditions about hand washing (verse 3), including under what circumstances and what implements (verse 4).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that these traditions had added to the hygiene requirements specified in Scripture and enforced them as vigorously:

There were many cases in which, by the law of Moses, washings were appointed; but they added to them, and enforced the observation of their own impositions as much as of God’s institutions.

MacArthur tells us how these traditions originated and developed. One rule for washing one’s hands included a ritual involving the fist:

They were not nearly so concerned about Scripture as they were their tradition. They had made their tradition equal to the Scripture.

… It all started – Moses gave the oral law at Sinai and then the law of God was written down, the Pentateuch being the primary law, and the rest of the Old Testament came. The Jews were concerned about the holiness of the law in external ways and they wanted to protect the law.

So when the law was handed down, there were some of the leaders of the great synagogue at Jerusalem who said, “We need to build a fence around the law. We need to make sure that that law is kept. And in order to make sure that law is kept, let’s put a fence around it away from it, and if people stop at the fence, then they’ll never get close to violating the law.” So the fence consisted of generation after generation of rituals and rules and ceremonies and behaviors of all kind, prohibitions, precepts to protect, supposedly, the law of God. And that’s the accusation. Not that Jesus broke the law, but that He violated the traditions.

When the Jews came back from captivity, they did want to protect the law. They wanted to keep the law. Remember Ezra? Ezra studied the law and observed the law and taught the law, and you remember he got up and read the law, and there was a great revival. The law was recovered when they came back at the end of the seven-year captivity. And so Ezra was the first of a group of men known as scribes, and their job was to study the law and explain the law so that people would know what the law was and they would be able to avoid violating God’s holy law.

Well, hypocrisy was already everywhere soon after Israel came back, and so they decided that in order to assure that people wouldn’t break the law, they’d just put up more and more and more and more and more barriers. A massive amount of material developed, I mean massive, called the Tradition of the Elders. In fact, 200 A.D., not long after the life of our Lord, Rabbi Jehuda pulled together all of this material, and it was an eclectic array of material, some of it sort of authoritative teaching by rabbis, some of it scribbled notes by students. It was all kinds of material, good, bad, and indifferent, ranging from things that were stupid and foolish and crazy to things that were more sensible. This mass of material was all collected together, put in one form, and it was called the Mishnah and that means “to repeat.” It represented the total accumulated content of Jewish tradition. It contains the decisions of wise men and the musings of idiots and everything in between. But the idea was to elucidate and interpret the law. The material is full of books, tracts, treatises, headings, chapters, paragraphs.

For example, Mark tells us they had all kinds of laws about the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots. Actually, there are thirty chapters in the Mishnah about the ceremonial ritual cleansing of pots and pans. Come on, thirty chapters? Because it wasn’t about sanitation, it’s about ceremonial ritual cleansing. So it takes thirty chapters for you to follow the minutia and the prescription of this kind of ritualistic cleaning of a pot or a pan.

Well, there’s one whole volume on rinsing your hands ceremonially, and that may be where the fist comes in. I’m not sure just how that worked. Well, it was discovered that the Mishnah needed clarity, the Mishnah needed supplementation, and so commentaries were written explaining the Mishnah and they were called Gemara. At first they were oral, and then they began to be collected. Gemara means complete. So you have the Mishnah and then explaining the Mishnah, you have the Gemara. The rabbinical school at Jerusalem then took the Mishnah and the Gemara and put them both together and came up with the Talmud. Have you heard that word? That’s all of that stuff. And then the rabbis at Babylon wrote their own Talmud four times larger than the Jerusalem Talmud. Now, no wonder Jesus said, “You bind heavy burdens on people, they can’t even carry them.” How could you eve get through that stuff?

Then they didn’t have enough, so then came the Midrash. The Midrash was all the rabbinic commentary on the books of the Bible. So you had this mass of material that totally covered up the actual Scripture

With this in mind, such as it was at the time of this confrontation, the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus why His disciples were not obeying tradition and washing their hands before eating (verse 5).

Jesus responded, referencing Isaiah’s words about the Jews of that time honouring God with their lips only and not their hearts (verse 6).

Henry elaborates:

They honour me with their lips, they pretend it is for the glory of God that they impose those things, to distinguish themselves from the heathen; but really their heart is far from God, and is governed by nothing but ambition and covetousness. They would be thought hereby to appropriate themselves as a holy people to the Lord their God, when really it is the furthest thing in their thought. They rested in the outside of all their religious exercises, and their hearts were not right with God in them, and this was worshipping God in vain; for neither was he pleased with such sham-devotions, nor were they profited by them.

MacArthur points out:

They didn’t say to Jesus, “You broke the law of God.” They said, “You” – what? – “You violated the tradition.” This is the point of attack …

Jesus said that their worship was in vain because they were placing human precepts — traditions — above Scripture, as if they were the law that God gave to Moses (verse 7).

MacArthur says:

After condemning them from the text of Isaiah 29, “You honor me with your lips, your heart is far from me,” this is empty worship, He says, “You neglect the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

After addressing the leaders from Jerusalem, Jesus turned to the crowd and called them to listen carefully to what He had to say (verse 14).

He said that nothing entering a person can defile him, only what comes out of that person’s mouth can defile him (verse 15).

MacArthur explains the word ‘defile’:

… you have a form of the word “defile” from the verb koinoō. It means to be dirty, to be unclean, to be impure, to be corrupt, to be defiled, used often in the New Testament, very frequently in the New Testament. Even more frequently, the Hebrew counterpart of that word chalal in the Old Testament used probably over 225 times. Why? Because impurity and purity is a biblical issue, because it’s an issue with God. Throughout Scripture we are told to be able to distinguish between what is impure and what is pure. So it’s a common theme and, therefore, it’s a common word.

Jesus listed the many sins that defile: fornication, theft, murder (verse 21), adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly (verse 22).

Jesus said that these sins come from within a person and defile him (verse 23).

These are incredibly widespread sins today. Many people make excuses for themselves as they commit them. Even worse, our lawmakers and social experts make excuses for people committing them.

We question a monogamous relationship. I heard a television discussion on that subject on Friday, along with advocates for polyamory.

Our laws are not being enforced. Shoplifting is punishable in Britain these days with a mere fine. Police do not want to investigate larger thefts of private property. They are too busy.

People who steal or cheat ‘cannot help themselves’ because of a difficult childhood. Judges are lenient.

Yet, we are bound up in pharasaical preoccupations with eating ‘clean’ foods, smoking bans and a new temperance movement. Our bodies have to look good, as if we were all celebrities.

The truth is that many ‘clean’ living people are but whited sepulchres on the inside. They look good, but they ignore God at their peril.