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The high and holy accusers were from Jerusalem, the sacred seat of all things pertaining to their faith. Jesus, in contrast, was the healer who spent his time in the countryside of the less-favored Galilee.
Wherever Jesus entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.
Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Jesus, having come from Jerusalem. When they saw His disciples eat bread with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.
Mark 6:56 - 7:4 NKJV, condensed
What's On Your Hands?
Picture the outdoor markets in Jesus' day. It was part of the daily routine to go to the marketplace where any and everyone bought and sold any and everything. Saints and sinners, rich and poor, men, women and children, slave or free--from the best and the brightest to the dark and dreary, all came together in one location. Goods passed from hand to hand; money went from pocket to pocket.
Now, add a unique dimension to the scene. People sick with all kinds of diseases are brought into the marketplace because Jesus is heading that way. Excited friends and relatives, full of hope for their recovery, bring them in and vie for a good position from which they can just reach out and touch Jesus' garment as he passed by.
Without a doubt, there were lots of dirty hands. But markets were also the source of vibrancy, good food, treasures of every kind, enlightenment, news, gossip and all things necessary. People couldn't survive without them. And that was the dilemma of the scribes and Pharisees, who were concerned about cleanliness. But not the kind of clean we think of. Germs were unknown back then. They washed their hands for different reasons.
It was not a health and sanitation issue, but a religious one. They thought clean hands and a pure heart went together like incense and candlesticks. Now wouldn't it be great if a reverent hand washing would eliminate all the dirt inside! But cleaning up the outside did nothing to remove the sins within. Although the purifying water went no deeper than their skin, the process did go to their heads. What it boiled down to was that these people of faith thought they were superior to the "unwashed" world around them. The goodness of religious fervor evolved into the evils of arrogance and self-righteousness.
The scribes and Pharisees were defending the tenets of their faith, and ironically, their enemy was Jesus whose disciples had just proclaimed him to be the Son of God. But according to the religious hierarchy, the hands of Jesus and his disciples were unclean and thus unfit for godly service. Why? Because Jesus and the Twelve didn't wash with the ceremonial water in the prescribed way before they ate their food.
In the marketplace, Jesus stood in stark contrast to the Pharisees who wanted to argue the dos and don'ts of religion. Jesus was about doing good and helping all who came to him. The Pharisees were about the traditions of the past and preserving their sacred beliefs. One healed, the other condemned. One was positive, the other negative. One inclusive, the other exclusive. Jesus was the epitome of God's grace and mercy, freely given to all who would receive it.
Everyone knew the men from Jerusalem were checking out reports that the Galileans received Jesus too freely. They were here to collect the dirt on Jesus, and remind him he was not living according to custom. They declined to receive anything from Jesus, and would never join the grateful dance in the marketplace.
Faith of our fathers, living still!--What are we to do with you? We do not want to live like these scribes and Pharisees who closed their minds to the mighty works of God being done daily along the streets and byways of Galilee. We do not want to deceive ourselves like those who washed their hands to cleanse their souls. Yet we do want to retain that ancient aspiration to have a pure heart before God, and come into God's holy presence with joy and a song.
Jesus was new wine that required a new wineskin. Legalism and faultfinding must end. #1 commandment is to love God above all else. #2 requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we do that our dirty hands will become hands of compassion made soft and gentle by the forgiving lotion of God's grace.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Look at your hands and tell what you see.
Name some things people were doing with their hands in this passage? How important is touching when you go shopping?How do you react when you see physically challenged people at the mall or homeless people lying on the sidewalks? Is there room in your world for "unfortunate and disadvantaged" folks?
Do you think Jesus should have cured everyone, regardless of who they were and what they had done? Are there people who don't deserve the healing touch of God?
Make a list of the dos and don'ts from your religious background? Which ones do you still hold on to and abide by? Which ones have you let go? How did you decide which to keep and which to let go?Giving up, or giving in, on small issues may amount to a crack in the dam and it's just a matter of time till it all goes. Is this a valid reason to remain adamant on matters of belief?
Go over your list of dos and don'ts and put a star beside all the ones which have made you a more loving and compassionate person. Those are the dos and don'ts you want to make sure you hold on to.
What do we do about the faultfinders who uphold the ancient rituals but fail to show compassion? Is it possible to be right in a wrong sort of way? If so, give some examples. What steps could you take to become a healer and not a faultfinder?
How do you stay clean on the inside while living in a dirty world? Are there sacraments, rituals or traditions which help with inner purity? How did Jesus remain clean and true to his calling?
Discuss the role of grace. What did the Pharisees know about grace and how did that affect the way they lived? How did grace change the lives of those who were healed in the marketplaces? What does the life of Jesus teach us about God's grace? What has the grace of God done for you?