December 19, 2019 Nineteenth day of Advent
This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me… Mark 7: 6
In the interests of full disclosure, my brother and I have a certain reputation in the family. It involves the rules of games we play. When we were children, my brother and I (and our friends truth be told) often got bored with our board games. To make a game more interesting we “adjusted” the rules. We did this so often that we kind of forgot what the real rules were. So, when we played these games with our kids, we would “announce” a rule that no one else knew about. These were dubbed “Tindall Rules”. My niece even bought us coffee cups that say, “Tindall Rules – The only rules you need to know”. I love that cup. Of course, its impossible to follow such rules when the rules get “adjusted” from time to time. This is kind of the context of our text today.
Let’s take a look at the entire passage.
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ 6He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’
Here the Pharisees question Jesus about ritual purity. Washing hands before eating was not just a matter of hygiene, it was a matter of ceremonial purity. This is all about tradition. But it was basically impossible for everyday folks to actually do it. Jesus makes the distinction between human traditions and the written law. The human tradition has no purpose but to preserve the tradition. The intent of the law is to preserve the community.
Tindall Rules preserve the tradition of the Tindall boys (of long past) while the written rules require the game to be played the way it was intended. That is why the incarnation is so important. Jesus came to challenge the traditions that were unfair, unjust or just impossible to follow. He gave us the “word” which was much simpler. Love God. Love each other. The rules of the game.