Gospel Reading: Mark 7:1-8, 14-5, 21-23
For Sunday, Sept. 2 , 2012—Ordinary 22
How many of us will preach this text with the assumption that we and our congregations are the rebellious followers of Jesus who upset the uptight fundamentalist Pharisees?
Question of Exposure
But it’s more a question of exposure. A person becomes ritually unclean by being exposed to that which is unclean, being subject to the presence of a certain illnesses, a dead body or improperly grown and prepared foods.
Ever since the pink slime revelation of earlier this year I have not eaten a hamburger that I didn’t know where the meat came from. I want to know the source. Is it grass fed, raised in humane conditions, no hormones—I practically want to see the steer’s bedroom and meet his parents before I put catsup on him. I feel the same way about dairy products and lettuce. In an era of factory farming and agribusiness behemoths you can’t even trust a spinach salad.
Can’t be Too Careful
This pericope starts with the Pharisees noticing the disciples eating with out washing their hands, but then goes on to narrate that the Pharisees do not eat anything from the market with out washing it first.
This makes obvious sense to us to clean off in residual dirt or pesticides (which are not supposed to be on my organically grown fruits and vegetables, but you can’t be too careful), but of course it is completely different thing with the Pharisees. They are not worried about dirt or pesticides (they just sprinkle them with water, they don’t submerge or scrub them), they are worried that the grower might have planted the crop on the Sabbath or in a field with other plants that are not supposed to be mixed in the same plot; they might have been handled in some unclean way, by some unclean person.
You can never be too careful, lest you expose your self to something that might defile you.
First World Options
Luckily for me, I can limit my exposure to actual harmful chemicals and farming practices, because I am able to pay the two to four dollars extra for a pound of ground beef or a gallon of milk. I can avoid possible exposure to lead or who knows what else by paying more for products not made in giant Chinese factories (except Apple products, an iphone is worth the risk). I can avoid exposure to all kinds of nasty diseases simply by being privileged to live in a first world country.
This is what Jesus is reacting to—the isolation of privilege. The Pharisees can use the wealth of the law to isolate themselves from what is unclean. They can limit their exposure to the people that would defile them—and in the name of righteousness. Most people don’t have that option. When Jesus says it is not what you are exposed to, have access too, or can afford, cheap food or Chinese made children’s toys that defile you. It is what is in your heart. Do you keep things pure for you and the elite members of your sect or do you work to keep things safe for those with no options.
The Hardest Question
How may of us will preach this text with the assumption that we and our congregations are the rebellious followers of Jesus who upset the uptight, fundamentalist Pharisees? The gospel cannot support that reading.