Proper 17, Year B: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23: Rules of God vs. Rules of Men

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 17, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about his followers eating without following particular hand washing rituals. We know from previous passages that they aren’t asking this question casually but are no doubt trying to trap Jesus again. They are angry his followers aren’t following ancient tradition as they think it should be followed. (Am I the only one who wants to sing the “Tradition” song from Fiddler on the Roof every time I think of tradition?)

Jesus claps back as only Jesus can and calls them hypocrites and quotes Isaiah saying they only honor God with words and not in reality. He says they prefer man-made rules instead of God’s commands.

This reminds me of so many Christian leaders today who are vocal in our culture with rules that they think everyone should follow–such as rules regarding sexuality or gender. The hill they will choose to die on is whether or not homosexuality is a sin or whether or not women should be equal to men, rather than to care for the poor and to seek to correct injustice. They choose to follow narrow manmade rules that oppress rather than life-giving abundant rules to work for the good of all humanity.

Proper 4, Year B: Mark 2:23-3:6: Rules Made for People

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 4, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

This week will be a little different, because on this week I did the homily for our church’s family service, so I’m going to copy over the written version of my homily.  I write everything out in Word and check how it reads aloud. Then I make note cards with just a few words on them to glance at while I’m speaking. I have not yet found the confidence to talk without the notes, but what I end up saying can vary a lot from this original written version. But here it is, anyway.

Let me tell you about the only two rules we have in my house.  OK, there are more than two, but I tell my kids these are the main rules that all the other rules fall under.  The #1 rule is Don’t hurt yourself or anyone else.  That makes sense, right? That’s a good rule for everywhere, not just in my house. And the #2 rule is, Don’t make a mess your mom has to clean up. I do a lot of cleaning of bathrooms or laundry or washing dishes, but this is specifically about them not making a bigger mess and leaving it behind when they’re done playing. I think that’s a good rule because I have a lot to do and I don’t need more work.

What are some good rules you can think of that you have to follow at home?

Is it ever ok to break a rule?

What if we had a rule that no one should get up and come up here in the middle of the service? (we don’t really have that rule but let’s imagine).  Then what if I was up here speaking and I tripped on the stairs (this could totally happen as I’m pretty clumsy—I’ve ended up in the emergency room after just slipping on the sidewalk).  So there I’d be lying on the floor and maybe I need help to get up—but the rule is no one gets out of their pews. Is it o.k. for someone to get up and come help me up off the floor?  Of course it is! It would be silly to follow the rule at that moment if someone needs help.

Today’s gospel story is about Jesus breaking a rule.

What do you know about the Sabbath? It’s often Saturday but in our church our Sabbath is on Sunday. The Sabbath is a day to worship God and to rest. We don’t have very strict rules in our church but in Jesus’ culture and in some religions today it’s very serious and strict. Certain leaders didn’t like that Jesus let his disciples pick some grain on the Sabbath (because it was like a form of work) and they really didn’t like it when he healed a man on the Sabbath. Do you think the Sabbath was made just to give people a hard time and a rule to follow? I don’t think so—I think it was designed to teach people to rest and set aside a time to spend with God.

So let’s talk about the Sabbath (bring out poster).  For us it happens to fall on Sunday, the same day as the Resurrection. I’ve thought of some good things to do on a Sunday that are about spending time with God and resting. Go to church. Pray. Have brunch.  Spend time with your family. What are some good things to do on a weekday—write them. How about on a Saturday? Now, what’s a good day to do a good deed—like Jesus healing? ANY DAY. Does it make sense to say you can’t do a good deed on Sunday because that’s not worshiping God? What would God love more than us helping other people? Showing love to people could happen on any day. (Draw in a cross or a heart in each day of the week.)

Now this part is really for the adults. We have a real problem with this in our country, even though we don’t have the same rules they had in Jesus’ time. People are being mistreated every day and many times the mistreatment is justified by some arbitrary rule. But Jesus said the rules are made for people and the people are not made for the rules. If rules mean that people are often imprisoned for years for minor offenses and if those people are disproportionately people of color, something is wrong with the rules. If our rules mean that parents are separated from their children just for wanting to enter our country, then something is wrong with those rules. If rules are made about how people protest, and nothing is done about what those people are protesting, something is wrong with those rules. The rules are best when they help people and we should rewrite them if they are hurtful or we should elect new rule-makers. I was talking to my husband Brian about this subject and he put it very well: “Don’t miss the principle of ‘loving your neighbor’ by blindly following a rule.” The bottom line is to love your neighbor.  Love the people and not the rules.

Proper 15, Year A: Matthew 15: 10-20, 21-28: Inclusiveness of Jesus

Jesus and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15), published in 1877

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 15, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Today we hear more of Jesus’ teaching. He says,  “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” This is important because of the culture Jesus was within–a culture that had very detailed rules about cleanliness and purity. There were specific rules about what foods were eaten and how to prepare them, etc. 

So his disciples asked him about it, saying that the Pharisees were offended (Pharisees were huge on following those rules). He says they are blind leading the blind. Peter asks for further explanation. Jesus seems incredulous that they still don’t get it. He says that what goes into the mouth, goes to the stomach, and then out to the sewer,  but what comes out comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.”  So what comes out of the heart, which reveals what’s within you, is more important than what goes in. Many Christians today are still obsessed with purity and following rules, usually of a sexual nature–but is it as important as what comes out of their mouths? Is it more important than the fact that these same Christians often condemn others rather than showing love?

In the second part of the reading, Jesus comes across a Canaanite woman (so, a foreigner, not Jewish), who calls out to him to have mercy because her daughter is tormented by a demon. His disciples want him to send her away and he does not answer at first. And then his first response seems harsh: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and when she continues to ask for help he answers, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She says that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table. He then tells her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed. This seems like he is almost testing her, and teaching his disciples at the same time. We know that Jesus came for more than his own Jewish people. He often reaches out beyond them in other interactions (with the Roman centurion who has a sick servant, with the Samaritan woman at the well, for examples.) The Bible is continually about expanding the love of God; it is a story of inclusiveness–as God’s love reaches out to the whole world. Even in the Old Testament, when men try to hold their faith tight, God reaches out to the rest of the world–as with Ruth, as with the people of Nineveh Jonah doesn’t want to save, and in many other stories. Jesus’ love is meant for all. If your faith teaches you to be exclusive and reject others, it’s not really the faith Jesus taught–it’s more like the faith of the Pharisees.