Mark 7:17

When Jesus went indoors, away from the crowd, his disciples began questioning him about this saying.

asking about a koan
counter-productive behavior
worthy of a dope-slap
silence and confusion
excuse our monkey-mind

looking for clues to a riddle
delay our ears from listening
beyond denotations
skating on surfaces
enthralled by assumptions

claiming a perquisite
ripened on our tree of desire
short-cut privileges
automatically lead us a long way
out of our way

While, “a house doesn’t a home make”, it is no stretch to read that Jesus entered his home. For Mark there is not a clear distinction between Jesus at any house or on a prayer retreat in the wilderness where such is not his home place. This gives background to his expansive and expanding understanding of purity laws.

As this is being written some 40 years after Jesus walked and talked his way from Egypt (Matthew) to, through, and beyond Israel’s boundaries, this honorable dispute within Judaism hardened after the Roman destruction of the Temple and became a mark of identity between the Jewish sect following Jesus and the sect of the Pharisees who remained after the failure of Sadducean and Zealot responses to Rome.

Regarding the “riddle” or parable, Myer81 pushes it toward an analogy as he, “characterizes this saying as a parable, in which the physical body is a metaphor of the body politic (7:17).” We’ll find out more about that in the next verses.

For now it may be enough to use this special transition as an opportunity to look back at the previous verses and raise your own question about the purity codes of the present and how it is we set limits of who is in and who is out. This moment of reflection will carry us into Mark’s next wink and nod at his readers who feel ever so much more insightful than the disciples who they can’t believe are so dense. The reality seems to be that every generation has its blind spot when it comes to ritual and ranking. If it is not Valley Girl speak or conspicuous consumption, it is a surety of one’s own spiritual insight being ever so much brighter and better than any other. Our very advancement in technology shields us from one another.

Mark 7:16

Let anyone with ears to hear, listen.
[omitted in most translations]

invisible verses
reveal water we swim in
listen carefully to gather data
that will carry seeds to fruition

beforehand we are to listen
even before a word is whispered
we clean and dry our ears
in expectation

a blessing
for the gifts we are about to receive
we are quietly prepared
to follow their assurance

whatever has gone before
teaches consequences
whatever is as it is
still yearns for what’s next

Some translations put their omission of this verse positively, “Some ancient manuscripts add this verse”. In that vein, it adds emphasis to the conclusion of a larger purity in the previous verse and acts as a transition to the next scene of “explaining” such a conclusion.

Some translations put their omission of this verse negatively, “This verse is omitted from critical Greek editions”. While not appearing in the “best” of the ancient manuscripts, it does mimic 4:9 where it was used after another saying that could use further explanation.

There are also some translations that simply use verse 16 with no indication that it is anything other than a part of the tradition.

This verse functions as another “palin” that asks us to return to the last time we heard this line. In this way the growth of return from scattered seed brings with it a growth in the Presence of G*D that returns us to a broader goodness of creation.

As we read our English translations it will be very important to note the footnotes of alternative readings. For example, in general the New Revised Standard Version and the New International Version swap footnote for text. What one uses as text the other notes in a footnote and vice versa. This reminds us that Mark is not done being read or written. All the creativity of Mark is enhanced or reduced by what we bring to our reading and how open we are to leaving our disbelief at the door. There are whole groups of people who will swear by one version or another. It is at this point of division that it would be well again to hear this verse in a never-ending context, “Hey! You got ears? Use ’em! You got a thinker? Use it!”

Mark 7:15

There is nothing external to a person, which by going into them can defile them; but the things that come out of a person are the things that defile them.”

it takes a village
to digest break-fast

Hooray for biotics
helping themselves
helping our self

rawness enters shredded
to be further broken
set upon by ravenous hordes
symbiosis at its best

we are fueled
by bacterial waste
our thanks for chewing

such is physical life
matter become energy

now to choose its spending

This aphorism is born out of sustained testing in the wilderness and retreating to find a larger formation. The purity regulations of Jesus’ day, or any day including today, are always a small approach to an over-abundance of life. The fear is that if we transgress particular habits, no matter how well grounded or how sticky they make a community, whatever little amount of control we have over life dissolves like mist and we are again consciously vulnerable.

This understanding holds its holder in good, if risky, stead with everything from eating, here, to death, later.

Anderson/Moore171 cast it: “In Mark’s view, any Judean or Gentile may be on God’s side or against God—based on faith in Jesus’ proclamation of the rule of God and on moral behavior rather than on ritual purity.” In being on G*D’s side we begin to travel down today’s mortal sin of the church, concretizing morals. It is difficult to know where a purity perspective ends and where it simply morphs into the next code that promotes a common identity through particular habits or shames deviant behavior simply because it is not sanctioned. Today we are more likely to call someone “incompatible with Christian teaching” rather than understand the gift their life brings.

Funk69 sees Jesus as a faithful follower of his mentor, Baptizer John, by understanding the import of this insight, “If Jesus taught that there is nothing taken into the mouth that can define, he was undermining a whole way of life.”

This small truism will show up in these ways in the Acts of the Apostles with Peter’s dream of the tablecloth (10:9–16).

Mark 7:14

Then Jesus called the people to him again, and said,“Listen to me, all of you, and mark my words.

clarifications have been made
wriggling from communal values
exempts us from humility

learnings from one setting
are connected with others
listen and implement

proof will be in the pudding
Sneeches will finally feast together
when understanding is enacted

Transitions are not easy for Mark. We were in Gennesaret with crowds coming from everywhere to touch and be touched; for healing. Then a smaller group of Pharisees and Scribes encircled Jesus with a question about the eating habits of his followers. Now, on “another occasion” (?), or “again” (?), or an even larger crowd of “all”(?) we are in the midst of a larger crowd that either displaces the Pharisees and Scribes or dilutes their presence.

The crowd will only be here for 3 short verses before we are back to a private setting with Jesus’ people.

It sounds like another parable is about to be on its way. “Listen” and “understand” gets us ready to have to work through a confusion.

Wright90 puts it this way:

That’s why Jesus had to use parables, not ony here but on many other occasions. It was the only way he could say some of the most devastating things he wanted to say. If you’re trying to tell your own world that it’s going the wrong way, that its heroes fought for the wrong cause and its martyrs died in the wrong ditch, you’ll be careful how you do it. It’s got to be cryptic. The Pharisees needed to be answered (clearly the dispute was not private; Jesus had to make some kind of statement), but Jesus was not about to hand them an obvious propaganda victory.

This is a different way of going than John the Baptist or Prophets of Yore. One of the differences is the occupation by the Romans and their Sadducean supporter. To have a chance to be heard, everyone needs to be kept off kilter. Surprise direct actions of healing and exorcism, hit-and-run teachings, and cryptic responses all play their part in building just enough of a base that the possibility of being an actual catalyst is given enough time to do its work.

These are skills that can be developed if we listen and understand beyond the particulars of a setting. If we don’t pick up on Jesus’ process as well as content, we won’t partner with him for long.

Mark 7:13

In this way you nullify the words of God by your traditions, which you hand down; and you do many similar things.” 

a sneak attack on good
set up to compete
with additional good
handicaps each version
until confusion is revealed
only an Alexandrian blade
changes an assumed dispensation

around we go from knot to knot
until political nihilism
brings Camus’ challenge
to any newborn artist
claim a freedom risk
heal wounds repair cut knots
all else is suicide

We come to the conclusion of Jesus’ defense of those learning and following his Way by going on the offensive against the Pharisees and Scribes. LaVerdiere194 puts it this way:

The rhetorical force of Jesus’ denunciation springs largely from a triple escalation of the indictment. The escalation is seen both in the choice of the words, especially the verbs, and in the sentence structure:

7:8 “You disregard God’s commandment
but cling to human tradition;

7:9 “You have set aside the commandment of God
in order to uphold your tradition . . .;

7:13 “You nullify the word of God
in favor of your tradition.”

Jesus’ denunciation takes one final step: “And you do many such things”

(7:13b). With this etcetera or kai ta loipa, the rest is left open to the imagination.

The “doing away with” or “nullifying” comes from ἀκυρόω (akyroō, making a contract void). Mann314 notes, “In classical Greek it is frequently used of canceling wills.”

To change the usual reading of the “Will of G*D” to “the will” of G*D moves us toward covenants that build community. To disregard–set aside–nullify the direct intention of G*D is as serious as if you were cut out of your parents will. The function of Corban, here, is to turn everything on its head. Parents no longer will their children blessings in terms of property/financial gain; children now will their parents resources to themselves, essentially declaring that their parents are dead to them.

Mark 7:12

why, then you do not allow them to do anything further for their father or mother! 13In this way you nullify the words of God by your traditions, which you hand down; and you do many similar things.”

care beyond intention
tests our resolve
to live honorably

for care takes
time       energy       resources
distributing them elsewhere

care makes saps
my personal destiny
spectacular self control

and care makes
deals with devils
at every turn

care debates care
until self care
again wins out

Myers80 describes the consequences of choosing a love of G*D over a love of Neighb*r (in this case the close neighbors of parents):

…because this practice leaves one’s parents financially ostracized, Jesus argues, the “vow” to the Temple becomes a “curse” upon the elderly 7:12), and “nullifies the command of God” (7:13).

This brings us to today with a written purpose (Declaration of Independence, where general welfare of citizens is the only thing that makes a general defense worth the doing) and a tradition of individual freedom (whose only restraint is Market maximization of personal profit).

We are still playing this game in the area of secular religion or economic theory. There is always one more rationalization about how I can avoid taxes and place the burden of no social services on those who can’t avoid a time of need.

Myers81 summarizes:

The principle here is the same as the one we saw in earlier conflict stories: Jesus puts those who are vulnerable (in this case the dependent elderly) before the demands of institutions and the sophistry of the privileged. Mark is again trying to show how “piety” can pre-empt justice.

Note this sequence in John Wesley’s sermon, “On Zeal”:

Be calmly zealous therefore, first, for the church…. Be more zealous for all those ordinances [works of piety, laws of holiness]…. Be more zealous for those works of mercy [feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting them that are sick and in prison]…. Be more zealous still for holy tempers, for ‘long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, lowliness, and resignation’; but be most zealous of all for love, the queen of all graces, the highest perfection in earth or heaven, the very image of the invisible God, as in men below, so in angels above. For ‘God is love…’.

Mark 7:11

you say ‘If a person says to their father or mother “Whatever of mine might have been of service to you is Corban”’ (which means ‘Set apart for God’) –

random luck
warps thinking
toward greed
justifying same
validating vanity

playing Peter
against Paul
robs both
delays not
our comeuppance

cute strategies
fool none
cover deceit
break covenant
unintendeds guaranteed

false gifts
promise falsely
on-going relationship
uncaring care
mines saddness

Every system that ends in a rule set against another rule is easily subverted into war against the other. The more difficult task is to see what in this tension best fits this occasion and to adjust one or the other or both to be more merciful. This note from the JANT74 reminds us that every authority has a way within it to modify or evolve itself in light of changing conditions.

The controversy here involves both the determination of which part of Torah, honoring parents or keeping vows, supersedes the other, and also whether a vow can be repudiated. In the Mishnah (m. Ned. 9.1) there is a discussion of “opening the way” to repentance (i.e., of allowing one who has vowed something to be released from the vow if it leads to conflict with something more important). Corban, Heb (“korban”) for a gift to God. When something had been declared devoted to God, it was generally not permitted for the giver to take back the gift. Rabbinic tradition, as noted above, also allowed release from “korban” when it deprived parents of their due.

Here both sides appear locked into their battle stance and are not able to find a release from the grip of the other. It is as if they are joined at the hip in their self-definition by the picture drawn by the other. Repentance or mercy gets left in the dust when a battle royale captures our imagination and we look for a final victor between the written and oral religions and various cultural perspectives (primarily Greek and Roman here).

We have no idea about the frequency with which Corban was applied. Was it as widespread as its contemporary version of health care where money is promised to the Market and cannot be released to extend compassion to the elderly, widows, and children?

Mark 7:9

Wisely do you set aside God’s commandments,” he exclaimed, “to keep your own traditions!

a self-made expert
carries a delayed hubris

unpartnered blindness
no testing is required

conditioned commandments
are set in stone

rules that once worked
demand a longer reign

the ease of former answers
denies reassessed responses

with only alzheimic remembering
hope is a first casualty

so it goes and goes
sub-clause by mixed metaphor

In continuing, Jesus builds on the abandonment of the written account of people’s encounters with G*D by noting it is not just an ignoring of it, but a decisional rejection of everything from Genesis to Zephaniah (using the Jewish traditional order ending with restoration, rather than the Christian Church reordering to end with Malachi which suits their tradition of Jesus as a new messenger building on Moses and Elijah).

This deepens the difference between the dusty roads of Galilee and lands beyond Israel that Jesus trod and the paved streets of Jerusalem and Roman Roads traveled by the Scribes; between the fields of Jesus and the towns of the Pharisees.

Do note the irony here of the official experts of the traditions are put down as experts only in rejecting the experiences of G*D and reporting of their many voices in favor of more easily constructed rules. Jesus here is taking the more difficult road of applying the stories to individual events, not claiming one size fits all. Simply remember the wide variety of ways in which healing went on, particularly those claimed by the Pharisees and Scribes to be done at the wrong time or with the wrong technique or words.

Sarcasm has its place in spiritual work. It is like a Buddhist monk bonking a student on the head when their mind wanders or a Puritan church tickling drowsy women and rapping dozing men.

Mark 7:8

You neglect God’s commandments and hold to human traditions.

when in doubt

read revolutionary prophets

old or new

read them aloud

taste their word

the sour bile

the umami hope

the spiced critique

chew their word

the salty phrase

the lingering courage

the forgotten promise

use their word

the negating greed

the raw power

the pervasive suffering

The Isaiah quote in 7:6b–7 was a lead-in to its application in an accusatorial setting. (Yes, questions are a way we can put another on the spot with built-in wiggle room to claim that it was just an honest question, not an accusation.)

The word behind “ignore” is much stronger in that it is active ignoring or “abandon”/”forsake”/ ”leave”. An irony here is the way the early and continuing church prefers to ignore the radical insight of Jesus by declaiming its own oral tradition and deciding certain groups of people are incompatible with their doctrine or teaching.

This insight applies to today’s Church as well as Mark’s. Charles W. Hedrick writes in an article, “The Church’s Gospel and the Idiom of Jesus”, in the Fourth R: An Advocate for Religious Literacy (Volume 30, Number 4, page 5):

Perhaps the most notable shift from Jesus to the church was that the proclaimer became the proclaimed: whereas Jesus proclaimed the Empire of God, the church proclaimed Jesus—specifically his crucifixion and resurrection. And this proclamation became known as “the gospel” in churches that thought of themselves as part of the “universal” (catholic) church. The short of the matter is that Jesus did not proclaim the “gospel” that the church proclaimed. The church’s gospel is couched in the language of religious institutionalism: it is direct, unambiguous, authoritarian, confessional, propositional, and intolerant.

This is nothing new since Hermann Samuel Reimarus and his work, On the Intentions of Jesus and his Disciples, written before 1678 and partly published by Gotthold Lessing in 1778. This is still worth reflecting on as a source of difficulty of continuing the church in today’s culture—Jesus versus Christianity.

Mark 7:7

but vainly do they worship me, For they teach but human precepts.’

lucky seven plus seven
pretending to be eleven
empties awe

made up rules of success
trump common senses
gilding lilies

ephemeral words jump around
eluding meanings as they go
null sets

the right-way announcer
solves every problem for you
but vanity

there is no devil nor blue sea
such knotty developments slice easily
no consequences

hovering over the face of the deep
tomorrow invites today to come forth
awe fulfilled

This is an excellent example of how the gospel writers appropriated ancient prophets. As LaVerdiere193 notes:

The quotation from Isaiah 29:13 in Mark 7:6b–7 follows neither the Septuagint nor the Hebrew Massoretic text, but is closer to the Septuagint. The distinctive elements in the New Testament, rendering could stem from a loose quotation done from memory or represent a traditional Christian form of the text. Those elements probably constitute a deliberate adaption of Isaiah 29:13 for the present Markan context.

The word translated here as “empty” attempts to carry Isaiah’s accusation of being “rote” or “memorized”—where the form has obliterated the content.

Regarding “instructions” it is instructive to return to the venerable King James translation that reads: “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” The word “doctrine” comes to us from Latin for “doctors”. Doctrine is what is taught by those who claim authority or have it affirmed by others. Either way it is as provisional as are humans.

“Instruction” is too mild a term here for a “commandment” as used by the Jewish Study Bible841 or “doctrine”. These carry a stronger sense of “must be followed”.

It is this “mustness”, one person to another or a culture to an individual, that Jesus responds to by using a close version of Isaiah to shift the question from honoring rote responses to physical realities.