Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Religion Fail (Mark 7:1-30)

Here we see three accounts that Mark shares to develop a theme about tradition, defilement and the true way through our sinful natures to God. I prefer to think of this topic in terms of religion, the problem of the Human condition and what the real solution to our problem is. (Since religion is not the answer.)

First we see Jesus confronted by His greatest naysayers, the Pharisees. They confront Him on the fact that He and His disciples do not conform to the religious practices of the day. They are not carefully and symbolically cleansing themselves before they eat. In doing so, the disciples are not breaking Mosaic Law, but they are not following the traditional rules that had developed over the years to help people avoid error. (Or simply to control people further, depending on how you look at it.) Jesus certainly shared the latter perspective. He accused the religious leaders of forgetting the spirit of the law, even worse, they were teaching man’s laws as those of God. Whatever was in their own best interest; that is what they would teach.

Later Jesus addressed the other side of the religious problem. Rules and laws are all set up to avoid sin—to avoid defiling one’s self with wrong. Sort of like the old Baptist stereotype that calls dancing wrong. Such rules are not set up to avoid actual wrong, but rather the stuff that leads to wrongdoing. Jesus argues that sin does not affect us from the outside; it is already in us. We are the source of sin. There are not sinful foods that corrupt us, we hold the source of corruption within.

This fail—the Religion Fail—has been around longer than actual sin. In Genesis we see evidence on man’s attempt to protect himself from wrongdoing by creating additional rules. Adam is told the one rule by God in the garden, but by the time Adam has taught Eve about the rule, we see she is led to believe that touching the tree would be just as bad as eating it. Good intentions on Adam’s part to be sure. If Eve never touches the tree, the she won’t be able to eat from it. The problem is, once she does touch it without any consequences, how can she trust the validity of the actual rule?

Christians today are often little better than the Pharisees of Jesus’s day. It is often easier to judge one’s progress as a disciple by ticking off lists (Did you pray before every meal? Did you read your Bible every day) than actually being introspective (Am I consciously living the presence of God? Am I learning from God and obeying what I learn?). It is certainly easier to hide from sin than it is to engage the culture with truth and love.

Mark caps off this portion of His story with a seemingly strange account. The Syrophoenician’s woman request and Jesus’s reaction is—on the surface—hard to reconcile with the rest of the Gospel story. However, it does help when it is seen in this context. God set up a religion, not to rescue people through a list of conduct regulations, but to expose our sin problem. Jesus’s mission on Earth—beyond dying to pay humanity’s sin penalty—was to advance the revelation of God’s plan through His chosen people. However, this woman’s faith is a perfect illustration of faith’s success in the face of Religion’s failure.

Our rules cannot save us. They don’t protect us from the sin in our hearts. They don’t make us any more acceptable to a holy and just God. But our faith and trust in God succeeds where our rules don’t

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