Read Mark 7:2-20
I have to be honest, if I just casually read this text, I have a hard time understanding what Jesus got so worked up about. I know the Pharisees and Jesus didn’t exactly see eye to eye, but on the surface it seems like it is a reasonable request that Jesus’ disciples wash their hands before they eat. I mean, lets be honest, who knows where their hands had been? I, for one, would not eat in a restaurant where the cooks and the servers don’t abide by the hand washing regulations mandated by the health department. So what was the big deal? Why would Jesus make such a point to counter this question and practice of the Pharisees? Was it just because they had become such a thorn in his side that he wanted to debate them on everything? Was Jesus just not big on personal hygiene?
I am not a Greek scholar by any means. I struggled through it in seminary to be honest. Sometimes, however, a little attention to the original language of scripture opens the door to some helpful insight.
The word “defiled” in verse 2 is the word κοινοσ (koinos) in ancient Greek. It literally means 1) common 2) common i.e. ordinary, belonging to generality
The issue for the Pharisees was not cleanliness, it was holiness. For the Pharisees, the reason they worked to follow the law to the very letter… the reason they instituted all kinds of purification rituals and blessings was rooted in their belief that every action, every bit of life was in need of some kind of external purification. Basically, if they could purify their every activity (literally everything from eating to working to relieving yourself and everything in between) then God’s people would become pure enough to receive the promised messiah who was to come and set them free… to fulfill the God’s covenant promises. But the truth is, there is no ritual or prayer or spiritual practice that can transform us from common to holy. It is God, who is outside of us, who comes into our insides to purify us. I often say it like this, “God is in the business of making the ordinary extraordinary!”
Our hearts are made free in Christ, and it is then we find that all life is sanctified. It is then when common things become holy. It is then when ordinary things become clean, not by saying the right prayers over them or by washing our hands in the proper way but by the power of God transforming those common events and ordinary people in a new way. That new way has been made complete through Jesus life and death and resurrection. Jesus freely accepted the outcast, the lonely, the unclean, the guilty. He accepted the common things and broken things of this world, which is why he accepts us. He was not afraid of what went into him. He was not afraid to get dirty, to brush against and touch the unclean things of this world. That’s what made him holy.
It is not, then, what goes into us that defiles us. And it is not what goes into us that makes us holy either. It is what comes out of us. Be set free today! You have been made extraordinary by the real presence of our living God,