Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Notes on Mark: Real Defilement Comes From Within

MARK 7:14-23
It is such a common idea these days to define someone's actions by their intentions rather than what they eat or wear or other such customs. Barclay reminds us how very unheard of that was in Jesus' day. I really enjoyed his references to Maccabees. Those books are some of my favorites of the Old Testament. The stories of the widow and her sons as well as one of an old man who refuses to give up his faith even though urged to because of his age are some that have really stuck with me. The speech that the old man and the widow each give are really beautiful examples of witnessing to faith.
Although it may not seem so now, this passage, when it was first spoken, was well-nigh the most revolutionary passage in the New Testament. Jesus has been arguing with the legal experts about different aspects of the traditional law. He has shown the irrelevance of the elaborate handwashings. He has shown how rigid adherence to the traditional law can actually mean disobedience to the law of God. But here he says something more startling yet. He declares that nothing that goes into a man can possibly defile him, for it is received only into his body which rids itself of it in the normal, physical way.

No Jew ever believed that and no orthodox Jew believes it yet. Leviticus 11 has a long list of animals that are unclean and may not be used for food. How very seriously this was taken can be seen from many an incident in Maccabean times. At that time the Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes, was determined to root out the Jewish faith. One of the things he demanded was that the Jews should eat pork, swine's flesh but they died in the hundreds rather than do so ... Fourth Maccabees (chapter 7) tells the story of a widow and her seven sons. It was demanded that they should eat swine's flesh. They refused. The first had his tongues cut out, the ends of his limbs cut off; and he was then roasted alive in a pan; the second had his hair and the skin of his skull torn off; one by one they were tortured to death while their aged mother looked on and cheered them on; they died rather than eat meat which to them was unclean.

It is in the face of this that Jesus made his revolutionary statement that nothing that goes into a man can make him unclean. He was wiping out at one stroke the laws for which Jews had suffered and died ...

With one sweeping pronouncement Jesus had declared ... that uncleanness has nothing to do with what a man takes into his body but everything to do with what comes out of his heart.
The Gospel of Mark
(The Daily Bible Series, rev. ed.)


  1. But this can't possibly mean that those martyrs died in vain. Even if a physical object cannot make a person unclean, the act of disobedience by which one eats a forbidden meat makes one unclean. Jews bound by the law should obey it because it IS God's law, not on the basis of whether or not a physical thing can make one unclean. Ultimately, this is no different than the fruit in the Garden of Eden: it is not the fruit itself, but the disobedience, that made our parents sinners.

    When we begin rationalizing, as Eve did, that the fruit looks delightful, we find ourselves questioning the logic of God's command. "It looks good, it smells good, it feels good, it must be good. God must be wrong." But it cannot serve good if eating it is contrary to the command of God. This supports what Jesus said: it is all about conformity of a man's will to the will of God.

    One could attempt to take this a step further by asserting that non-marital sex cannot defile a man. How can it? "We love each other. We seek unity, and commitment, we're even open to children."

    But the fact that it is contrary to the law of God, positively expressed in his commandments, makes non-marital sex defiling, because one has set one's will against the will of God.

    Jesus' words are shocking only if you set the object or the act as independent from God's will.

    1. I think you are misunderstanding what is being said. The commentary above is not meant to imply that those sacrifices were in vain because that was the extent of man's knowledge of God's will at the time.

      The examples mentioned showed that those martyrs did have the right intention. It was the people, for example, who urged the old man to go ahead and eat pork, who didn't understand the intention, the love of God, that the laws signified.

      As Jesus said, he comes to fulfill the Law, not abolish it. What Barclay is saying is that Christ's declaration of the final "evolution" (if you will) of the law, in God's plan, is revolutionary.

      And so it is.

    2. Thanks Julie. I didn't misunderstand, I was (presumptuously) adding to what you had posted in case an other might need clarification. and now, you've added further clarification!

      By the way, I love your blog, and stop by fairly regularly.

    3. Ahhhhhhh ... gotcha! So I misunderstood! Oh, if only it were the first (or last) time that happened! :-D

      Thank you for your comments and clarification ... and for your kind words. :-)