a biblical reflection, based on Mark 7:1-8, for tomorrow, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, August 30, 2015
The Pharisees, strict adherents to religious ceremony and practice, law and tradition, argue with Jesus about washing hands. This isn’t a debate about table etiquette or good hygiene, but rather faithful observance, a sure sign of fidelity and gratitude to God. A problem arose (and arises still) when dutifulness in performing the deed becomes more important than the thankfulness of heart that the deed represents. Over against the zealous, over scrupulous attention to outward action Jesus stands on the side of inward intention and devotion.
Through the lens of this conversation, this confrontation, I also see the (our) human tendency toward exclusion. Our human desire, our human need to decide who belongs and who does not belong; hence, the pharisaical devotion to the traditions of ritual washing as a way of establishing the identity of the group, in this case, the Israelites. Determining and maintaining boundaries was where not all, but clearly these Pharisees focused their attention. This was their work, their life’s labor.
Jesus’ problem is not with the law itself, but rather that the practice of the law can obscure the point, the purpose of the law: loving God with one’s heart, soul, and strength. Here love is not primarily emotion, but rather, allegiance, fidelity to God with one’s entire being. An inescapable corollary of loving God is loving others: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (And Jesus, in his Parable of the Good Samaritan expanded the definition of “neighbor” to include all people.)
Jesus, it seems to me, argues that God desires not to divide or exclude. That God does not build impenetrable walls and insuperable barriers between and amongst peoples, but rather invites all and includes all.
This makes sense to me, for this, I believe, is the labor of love.
Illustration: The Pharisees question Jesus, James Tissot (1886-1894)
 Deuteronomy 6.5
 Leviticus 19.18