Tradition, tradition

Libby Purves, writing in yesterday’s Times (of London), says “Leaders, being human, like to bolster their authority. Many religions feel a need to differentiate themselves by imposing detailed rules of life.”  She concludes, “Religions, too, should ask, how much is non-negotiable? What truly relates to the vital spiritual core and how much is barnacled cultural accretion, outdated and unnecessary to the essential flame you tend?”

The Pharisees who confront Jesus in Chapter 7 of Mark’s Gospel, verses 1 – 13, are adamant that his disciples are breaking the rules about ritual cleansing. Mark gives us a series of arguments against unnecessary religious, ritualistic rules. The style here suggests more the conflict of the earliest Christian communities in Israel with their Jewish neighbours, rather than actual arguments between Jesus himself and the Pharisees. However, Mark rounds this passage off in verse 14 with words that do have the authentic ring of Jesus.

“….Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

What defiles? See verses 21 and 22. It’s ‘evil intentions’ that defile us: “fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.”

What is it that is defiled? “A person”, says verse 23. Skip for a moment to chapter 8 verse 36: (and I prefer the New English Bible translation here) “What does a person gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his true self?”

Advertisers like to entice us with the promise of things we can paste on, put on, or take in which, they claim, will enhance our true selves. They are the modern, secular equivalent of those Pharisees who thought that ritual purity was a necessary part of the way to a true self. Chapters 7 and 8 of Mark’s Gospel are full of people who didn’t get it – the secret of the true self I mean. I’ll be trying to decipher what Mark is pointing to in the  next post on this blog.

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