Mark 7:1–8 NRSV
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (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.) 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?” 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; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
It’s important to get the scene from the previous entry clearly in our minds.
“And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside’they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed” (Mark 6:56).
An absolute Holy Spirit phenomenon swept across the land. People ran all over the countryside bringing their sick and demon-possessed family and friends to Jesus. Blind eyes finally glimpsed the beauty of their own children. Lame people danced in jubilation. Deaf ears heard the sound of music for the first time. Poor people could hardly comprehend the extravagant scope of the good news.
News had reached Jerusalem of the amazing grace spreading across the land. Headquarters (a.k.a. the temple) dispatched a delegation of officials to see the unfolding miraculous events with their own eyes. Surely they would embrace Jesus and invite him into their fellowship.
Now, with this scene of extraordinary proportions in your mind’s eye, behold what happened next: Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. . . . 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?”
You’ve got to be kidding me. Dead people are being raised to life again and the religious leadership can only seem to notice Jesus’ disciples aren’t washing their hands before dinner.
It’s how human nature works. Here’s what I mean by that. People typically want to control what they don’t understand—especially people who have power or authority and especially people who are considered authorities—whether they actually have real authority or not.
Whenever the Holy Spirit does what the Holy Spirit does best—which is to reverse the curse of sin and death’the masses tend to embrace it. Unfortunately, the classes tend to get up in arms about it. I’ve been at the First Methodist Church when the Holy Spirit started coloring outside of the lines. Deliverance and healing broke out at the altar. People experienced freedom from bondages that had held them for decades. Yes, there were some out-of-the-ordinary expressions never before witnessed by most people present, yet they mostly remained open. The most-surprising reactions came from the religious authorities. In fact, they did everything in their power to shut it down. The leaders of the meeting were branded heretics (though no one ever identified the particular heresy).
When I read a text like today’s, all of a sudden it’s not so surprising what happened back then. When the Holy Spirit goes to work, it can get messy. It can be less than dignified in the eyes of sophisticated church people, but it can be a downright threat to the leadership.
So when’s the last time you remember the Holy Spirit doing something that was not in the bulletin? Could it be possible our own posture of openness or closed-ness has something to do with this? We need not be afraid of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Sure, we need wise leaders who can tell the difference between the Holy Spirit’s movement and out-of-control wildfire and who can shepherd us with grace and truth. More than anything, though, we need to develop the humility to let God be God.
So here’s the question I’m asking myself: Am I completely open to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life? Even if I don’t understand it? Even if it makes me uncomfortable? Even if it means I am out of control?
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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