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Bible for Thinkers

Liberals love the Bible, too. We just look at it differently. This is a place to discuss the Bible where you don't have to check your brain at the door. There are many ways to see it, and many ways to have it come to life.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Clean and Unclean

Mark 7:15-16 “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’”

The One Year Bible that we’re reading from in our Daily Walk program is not laid out with any particular agenda. It simply starts at the beginning of the Old Testament, the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs and follows each through every day to the end. So it is always a happy God-incidence when difficult things in the Old Testament section are met with explanations from Jesus in the New Testament section.

The Old Testament passages we’ve been reading are from Leviticus and lately have all been focused on the notion of “clean” and “unclean.” We read the roots of Kosher laws and what foods were considered unclean. We read also about certain skin diseases and discharges that put a person into the ranks of “unclean,” along with how to rejoin the “clean” once the condition was cleared up. Reading all that in Leviticus sounds pretty harsh to our ears.

It does, however, give us a better understanding of where the Pharisees in Jesus’ day are coming from. Their job was to make sure that the laws of the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) were upheld in Israel, and all these clean and unclean rules were part of that law. It also gives us a better understanding of why Jesus consistently got himself in trouble with the religious establishment. After reading all of those Levitical laws, maybe you can hear how radical it was for Jesus to say to the Pharisees in Mark 7:8 that “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” Then he goes on to contradict much of that writing in Leviticus to say that it is what comes out of us and not what goes into us that make us “unclean.” Leviticus is pretty clear that God gave those commands to Moses and Aaron. Jesus calls them the traditions of men and not the commands of God. It’s no wonder the Pharisees weren’t happy.

But notice that Jesus does not eliminate the category of “unclean,” he simply redefines it. To be unclean was to be out of the will of God--to be separated from God’s people and in need of atonement before fully participating again in the worship of God and in the life of the community. Jesus dismisses the idea that such a state can come from eating the wrong foods, touching a dead body, or having certain physical conditions. But instead of dismissing the category, he redirects it toward the attitudes of the heart that are manifest in “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly.” (Mark 7:21-23) Jesus is saying that those are the things that pull us out of the will of God and that place us outside of the worshiping community. Those are the things for which we need to seek atonement.

And so we are not off the hook. There is still meaning for the concepts of “clean” and “unclean.” To be a follower of Jesus means to keep a close watch on our hearts and our tongues, lest they lead to the folly of sin and the separation from God and community. The hope in Leviticus is that God is willing to make atonement for those who are “unclean,” who will recognize their state, and who will seek to be “clean” once again. That is still true. The offer still holds, held in the pierced hands of the sacrificial Lamb of God.


At 1:41 PM, Teresa said...

Anne, I wish so much that you would post more often! I just love your thoughts and your heart! I too am reading that Bible. I like it because I am not a real history person and I get mixed up about all of the back and forth...

Anyway, back to the meat of this. My husband and I have attempted to teach about this over and over. Statistics say someone needs to hear something at least 7 times (I have a sales backround) before it clicks--and then the Holy Spirit needs to speak to them too. However, it is frustrating to me when others do not see what this "truly" means--it is saddenning too because they are missing out on so much! We have come from a So Baptist backround and therefore are influencing or repelling many conservatives who are our friends...What I think that they fail to miss is that there is no jew nor greek...that there is no conservative or liberal, there is no clean or un-clean...--just a Christ follower. I am neither and people are confused by that it seems--funny to me. When I see bumper stickers such as this one, "You cannot be a liberal and a Christian", I cringe and at the same time I feel so sorry for the person who has TOTALLY missed the point. I wonder if there was a bumper sticker back in the day that said, "You cannot be a Pharisee and a Christ follower". I guess that leaves the Apostle Paul and Nicodemus out of Christianity. LOL

At 2:06 PM, Jennifer said...

Hi Anne,

Teresa pointed me your way. I agree with what both of you have said. It does help me understand the Pharisees' position better. I guess they were just trying to do their job. But Jesus made it clear that the attitude of the heart is what's really important, not rules and regulations. I come from a Baptist background, too, and like Teresa I have been trying for years to break many of those old strongholds that keep well-meaning Christians in bondage. Great post!

At 8:35 PM, Cynthia Antoinette said...

In the beginning of Mrk, it says "then they came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain fo the sribes, which came from Jerusaliem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, handds, they found guilt...." How does this preface fit into your thesis?

At 9:38 PM, Anne Robertson said...

That passage at the beginning of Mark 7 sets up the conflict. Jesus is breaking the law of Moses as interpreted by the Pharisees. He and the disciples have guilt under the law and the Pharisees call him on it.

Jesus then, in the passage I've quoted here, tells them they've got it of many times that Jesus scolds the Pharisees for adhering to the letter of the law while ignoring its spirit.

Another way to phrase Jesus' response would be to say, "If you think that, when you appear before the throne of God's judgment, God is going to care more about whether you've washed your hands than whether you've loved your neighbor, you're nuts!" Of course that's a paraphrase. :-)


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