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.


Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.  Make us clean.  Amen.


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