Mark 7:4

When they come from market, they will not eat without first sprinkling themselves; and there are many other customs which they have inherited and hold to, such as the ceremonial washing of cups, and jugs, and copper pans).

if washing hands is good
anti-bacterial soap
will only add to goodness
so we invent
so we market
so we fail
the very washing we do
strengthens illness’ systems
how ironic law begets lawlessness

A long and incomplete sentence begun in verse 2 peters out here. Some scholars go so far as to recommend deleting them.

A takeaway is that returning from market, the person, the food, and the utensils are to be cleansed (remember today to wash possible pesticides off food before preparing it). Regardless of any good reasons for the continuance of a ritual, we are not to turn it into merely a habit or privileged control of another.

The fact that Mark sets this debate in relation to the “marketplace” also suggests an economic dimension in the background. Pharisaic regulators were concerned that marketplace food had been rendered unclean at some stage (i.e., seed sown on the Sabbath or fruits harvested without properly separating out tithes), and sought to control such “contamination.” Many Galilean peasants resented these Pharisaic “middlemen” in the processes of production, distribution, and consumption of produce.      Myers80

Only a few translations keep the washing of a “bed”. With that strange last word we have climbed into bed with ritual.

David Rhoads’ chapter on “Social Criticism: Crossing the Boundaries” in Anderson/Moore163 notes a pattern in Mark that carries an implicit question for today’s readers about current cultural norms:

When we turn to the depiction of Israel in the Gospel of Mark, we see issues of both purity and defilement throughout: The Holy Spirit, cleansing a leper, work on the Sabbath, corpses, exorcism of unclean spirits, Gentiles, sinners, unclean foods, and so on. As portrayed in Mark’s story, the elders of the nation uphold the laws of ritual purity…. By contrast Jesus makes an onslaught against these purity rules and regulations. In Mark’s view, Jesus is indeed holy, for the “Holy Spirit” comes upon Jesus at his baptism (1:10) and he is called “the Holy One of God” (1:24). Nevertheless, Jesus counters the purity rules that preserved the holiness of the nation.

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