Christ Lutheran Church
August 22, 2021
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Now a delegation of the Pharisees along with some Scribes that had come from Jerusalem surrounded him. They observed that some of his disciples ate the breads with unclean hands, that is unwashed, and they accused him of wrongdoing. Mk 7:1-2
The traditions that the Pharisees and Scribes practiced, and defended were wrong, but not for the reason you might think. They were wrong because they displaced the commandments of God as we hear in today’s gospel. They were wrong because they prevented God’s people from carrying out what was more important: in this case to honor father and mother.
Do you want to love God? Then love your parents. Care for them when they are unable to care for themselves, even as they cared for you when you were unable to care for yourself. To do this is to love the God who says: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)
But they were wrong for another reason and it is this: The commandments about washing before eating were given by God as prophecies of a later fulfillment. That fulfillment is Christ crucified who cleanses us from all sin. And about the church’s Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion where impure souls are made pure. But when God “was made man” all the Old Covenant promises found their fulfillment, and became null and void.
We could compare it to discovering that you have the winning ticket for the big lotto in your hands. You will guard that ticket with your life. But once the check is securely delivered to your bank account the ticket is of no more value.
This was misunderstood by most, but not by all. Many faithful people of Israel reverently heard the Old Testament promises and looked for the Messiah.
People like Philipp the Lord’s disciple who said to Nathaniel, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." (John 1:45)
People like Simeon who when presented with the Child Jesus said, “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou has prepared before the face of all peoples. A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Lk 2:29-32)
People like 84 year old Anna the Prophetess who when she observed the Lord’s dedication, “gave thanks to God and spoke of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Lk. 2:38)
People like Martha who at Lazarus’ grave said, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world." (John 11:27)
But there was no gentle way to break the news to the majority of Israel to whom the book was sealed, as Isaiah prophesied. Sealed because they could not read the signs of the times that Jesus was. Sealed because they had no faith...
And so Christ appeared and day by day for 33 years established the Kingdom of God by unmistakable words and deeds, and by his joyful death and glorious resurrection. So that only the thickest and blindest; the most self-centered and self-righteous could not comprehend the greatest event in the history of the universe happening before their very eyes.
But lest we, too, miss the point we must hear today’s gospel carefully, and pay attention to the subject matter: washing; and eating. The Lord’s antagonists were not talking out of their hats that day. God had indeed given rules for washing and eating. But it was not personal hygiene that God had in mind, but rather of moral purity and impurity. Of holiness and unholiness.
Said simply God is Pure and Holy, and we are not! We are not because like the Lord’s antagonists we, too, have set aside the commandments of God, in order to make our own. This is sin, which makes it impossible for us to commune with the Living God from whom ALL blessings flow.
And so these ritual cleansings before eating were prophecies of the great washing of baptism in the Lord’s blood, and of eating the Bread of Heaven in Holy Communion which Jesus gave to restore our hands, and our lips to purity.
In John Chapter Six he says to us, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
Now if you look in the original Greek of St. Mark Chapter Seven you will see what no English translation brings out. That the Jews do not “wash” their hands and utensils, but they “baptize” them. And this is done according to the original Greek before “eating the bread.” (These are things you will never hear on The FISH or on Moody Radio.)
Also crucial to remember for today’s gospel is that in the Old Testament God married Israel. He became her husband at Mt. Sinai and entered into marriage vows with her. He promised to be her God, and to nourish and cherish her; and she in turn promised to be faithful to him, and to all the words of the marriage compact spoken there that day.
But this was not an end in itself, but rather a prophecy of an even Greater Wedding Feast that would take place on another Mountain, Mt. Calvary; because Jesus himself is the “Man” who left his heavenly Father and his earthly Mother and went to the cross to marry his Bride the church.
Like with Adam, our Lord too was put into a deep sleep, in this case the sleep of death. And as God opened Adam’s side and formed his bride from one of his ribs, even so the Lord’s side was opened by a Roman spear and out came the cleansing blood and water by which his Bride, the church is purified, to become the Lord’s dazzling Bride.
You are that Bride! You are dazzling and beautiful to him!
This is what we learn from St. Paul’s Eucharistic Catechism in Ephesians Chapter Five. But not only does he wash us he also “nourishes” us with the Bread of Life, his own Flesh and Blood, and cherishes us so that the two, we and our Lord, become one Flesh. Now Genesis 2:24 is fulfilled.
Finally, there is nothing wrong with tradition; indeed it is good as long as it is not opposed to Scripture.
The church’s chief Tradition is the thing we are engaged in this time: Divine Service or “The Mass,” as our Lutheran Fathers gladly called it when they confessed in AP XXIV “At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it.”
But it was a purified Mass “full of grace and truth” that relied on Christ alone for the remission of sins. Indeed every move we make here, every liturgical gesture, every word, every sound, every smell, every vestment and furnishing is a tradition that spills over with grace, mercy and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, “for us men and for our salvation.” This is our tradition! Amen.