In the Lectionary

September 2, Ordinary 22B (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

What does it mean to be seen as a defiled person?

The Pharisees and teachers of the law have come with questions. They ask Jesus, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Traditionally, when coming from the market they would be expected to ceremonially wash their hands. These religious leaders are here to scrutinize Jesus’ operations and catch him in the act of inconsistency and violation of the law.

The text does not explicitly say, nor does anyone ask, why Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands. It is also possible that the disciples did wash their hands, before the Pharisees and scribes arrived. People come with accusations and judgments, often from the outside looking in. Care has to be taken here. There’s always a story behind the story.

In Mark 7, Jesus deals directly with questions of what defiles people (verses 1–23) and religion (24–37). Faced with the tradition and its demands, Jesus declares that Isaiah was right: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrine.”