February 17, 2009

Rejecting God in Style
Pastor George Van Alstine

In one of his encounters with the Pharisees, recorded in Mark 7, Jesus critiqued their pattern of emphasizing their pious appearance before other people, instead of recognizing how God saw them, as sinners in need of salvation. It’s as if they believed that if they persuaded enough people that they were righteous, God would have to see them that way as well.

The incident that triggered this conversation was the failure of his disciples to do the ritual hand-washing before eating (verses 1-2). This was not just considered hygiene, but also symbolized spiritual contamination from the outside world. The “tradition of the elders” dictated a ceremonial washing, following a specific pattern (verses 4-5). Jesus quoted from the Prophet Isaiah to remind them that it was possible to say all kinds of spiritual things and yet be very far from God (verses 6-7).

Using a bit of irony, Jesus “commended” the Pharisees by saying, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God” (verse 9). “A fine way”—the word means “beautiful” or “exquisite.” They did not reject God in a crude or harsh way. They did it with style. Theirs was a genteel rejection of God. That’s what superficial religion amounts to—just a more “civilized” way of rejecting God. The Pharisees said pious words with their lips, but in their hearts they rejected God as surely and absolutely as Pilate, Herod or Judas did.

Jesus chose an interesting example (verses 10-13). There was a strong Biblical mandate for children to take care of their parents in their old age. But some of these Pharisees had found a “fine way” to get out of this responsibility. They declared the funds that should have been used for that purpose to be “Corbin,” or an offering to God. Then they found other “fine ways” to divert the money to their own personal wealth.

Can people be this evil? Yes, when their hearts are far from God, their hearts may also be just as cold in their closest human relationships. The sad fact is that the things which defile us don’t come from the outside, so they may be washed off with water, or papered over with superficial religious acts. They come “from within, from the human heart” (verse 21). Finery on the outside can’t hide corruption on the inside.