• Steven Marsh

Serving–Resurrection Wisdom: a Reflection on Mark 7:1-8

“Cajun humorist Justin Wilson tells the story about two boys who were neighbors. They were best of friends on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but on Sunday they were enemies because one was a Catholic and the other was a Baptist.”[1]

Their parents didn’t like the fact that these religious differences were producing such uncongenial relations, so they agreed to have their sons visit each other’s church services so that a mutual understanding might foster a more tolerant attitude. On the first Sunday, the Baptist boy visited the Catholic church. Just before they sat down, the Catholic boy genuflected. “What’s that mean?” the Baptist boy asked. All through the mass, the Baptist boy wanted to know what this and that meant, and the little Catholic boy explained everything very nicely. The next Sunday it was the Catholic boy’s turn to visit the Baptist church. When they walked in the building, an usher handed them a printed bulletin. The little Catholic boy had never seen anything like that before in his whole life. “What’s that mean?” he asked. His Baptist friend carefully explained. When the preacher stepped into the pulpit, he carefully opened his Bible, and conspicuously took off his watch and laid it on the pulpit. “What’s that mean?” the Catholic boy asked. The Baptist boy said, “Not a darn thing!”[2]

We humans need order. We don’t do well without it. That is the point of the story. The Catholic boy explained the order to his Baptist friend, ritual act by ritual act. And the Baptist boy explained the content of the bulletin, particularly the order of service. When the preacher put his watch down, order was cast out the window. At that point, both boys new that time didn’t matter. Why? The service was going to end when the preacher determined it would end.

Order is important. But, we can abuse it when we make the various aspects of order more important than the anticipated outcome. Mark 7 suggests we wise up. Yes, we need order, laws, and doctrines. However, order that loses security of individual experience, laws that lose organization of the common good, and doctrines that lose ability to articulate belief[3]guarantee outcomes which miss the mark. The Pharisees were attempting to trap Jesus in the legalism of ritual cleansing. The disciples had not washed their hands before eating, thus the religious leaders questioned Jesus’ dismissing of the teaching of the elders. How dare he not adhere to ritual righteousness. We often behave like the Pharisees. Like the Pharisees, we misinterpret what is important to God.[4]

Rebecca Manley Pippert in Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World emphasizes the importance of not misinterpreting what is important to God when she writes, “One of the cries we hear in our modern culture is the search for family, for a community, especially with the isolating nature of modern life…As an evangelizing church, we need to ask ourselves: Who are the poor and destitute, the widows and orphans in our midst? How do we offer them the love and hope of Christ as a Christian community?”[5]Resurrection wisdom is that which occurs when order, laws, and doctrines, are tested and actually work in real life with real people. Wisdom is knowledge that that has proven the test of time.

Jesus asks us this day to examine the purposes behind why we do what we do in worship. Are you becoming more aware of God’s love for you and God’s presence with you because of the liturgical components of a call to worship, Prayer of Confession, Scripture Readings, Message, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, Affirmation of Faith, the Offering, Singing, and Benediction? Or have you stumbled because the Prayer of Confession offended your sensibilities, a hymn was sung not to your liking, a person you hoped would pass the peace of Christ to you, seemed to snub you, or passing the communion trays is not your preference for the Lord’s Supper. Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm writes, “However difficult or challenging Jesus’ words may be, there is within them the hope of renewing our attitudes and actions so that we may reflect God’s loving intentions for humanity.”[6]We do not want to give lip service to Jesus in our worship. We desire the outcomes of worship to come to fruition. We want to love God and others more dearly and deeply.

Yes, there is a family argument going on in the text in Mark as well as in the Christian community. Church people want what we want when we want it. Shame on us for behaving like the Pharisees. Let us appreciate the Spirit’s work today in helping us consider and experience anew, Jesus’ claim on our lives.

[1]Justin Wilson and Howard Jacobs, Cajun Humor (Pelican Press, 1984); submitted by Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky. The illustration is found on http://www.preachingtoday.com.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Some ideas gleaned from Amy C. Howe in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 22.

[4]This idea of misinterpreting what is important to God is gleaned from Amy C. Howe inDavid L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, 22.

[5]Rebecca Manley Pippert, Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 248-249.

[6]Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, 25.

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