True Worship for Jesus

Today’s reading is Mark 7:1-13Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Richard.

My first job post degree was with a small firm of accountants whose offices had as its main view the eastern side of Liverpool Street station in the city of London.

One day one of my more cynical and lazy senior colleagues shouted to everyone in the office—‘come and look at this—the great British workmen at work’. What he was pointing to were three workmen taking a break from their repair work to the wall of the station. He stood there, cigarette in hand ‘just look at them standing around doing nothing’. He watched them doing nothing for a considerable period of time pontificating that it was no wonder the economy was in such a state when its population were so shiftless.

Of course, he didn’t see the irony or the hypocrisy of his words.

Today our reading is about another form of hypocrisy—religious hypocrisy, saying one thing and doing the opposite. Outwardly observing the religious ‘laws’ whilst using them to deny help to others.

The context as we have heard from our reading is this: Jesus and his disciples were gathered together when they were joined by some of the Pharisees and religious leaders. As the disciples started to eat, the religious leaders immediately criticised them for eating without having washed their hands. This wasn’t about hygiene but about the ritual washing of hands. The text says that all Jews ritually washed their hands but this wasn’t technically true as the Sadducees and common people did not comply with these rules. However, the Pharisees and those who followed them did.

One of the commentaries sheds some light on this practice—Under the Torah (the laws laid out by God in the first five books of the Bible), the ritual of washing hands was only prescribed for the priests. The Pharisees understood all Israel to be a priestly nation, so encouraged everyone to live by the holiness code of the priests. They took this from Exodus 19:6Open Link in New Window “‘you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

At face value, to encourage a whole community to greater holiness was a very good thing. However, it was only the outward appearance of holiness, not genuine piety. Jesus knew their hearts and knew of their actual practices and so in defence of his disciples launches an attack.
He starts by quoting Isaiah 29:13Open Link in New Window at them

“This people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.

The Israelites had fallen for this trap centuries before—human practices had overtaken proper devotion to God. Now the Pharisees were doing the very same thing.

Jesus then points out one of the practices that highlighted their hypocrisy. This was devoting an asset to God in order to avoid the sacred duty of supporting their parents. (It could be land or money or any other asset with value). So, when their parents needed financial help the Pharisees were able to say ‘I am sorry I can’t help you because I have dedicated that asset to God’.

Jesus ends by telling them that is just one example, there are many more things you do which speak of hypocrisy. This of course is not the only occasion he takes the religious leaders to task. In Matthew 23:27-28Open Link in New Window

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Learning

Some years ago, I belonged to a bible study group and one of my friends always used to ‘Tut Tut’ the Pharisees and would comment on how dreadful they were. It made me kind of chuckle inside as I felt the person was missing the point—we can all so easily be like the Pharisees. Have the outward appearance and practice of a follower of Jesus but inside our devotion is questionable. This is at two levels

  1. Firstly there is our personal walk with God. The question is—are we outwardly saying one thing when inwardly doing something else? We are all prone to hypocrisy, and I am certainly guilty of it. You should hear me complain about cars going well over 20 mph down Sommerville Road, near to where I live. Do I always adhere to the 20 mph limit on Gloucester Road or dare I say it Sommerville Road? Do I never break the speed limit? The answer is no… I am a hypocrite. And so to our personal walk with God, do we say one thing and do another. The answer is probably yes and I dare to suggest that we are all guilty of some form of hypocrisy from time to time. What is the answer?
    1. I believe firstly that we must own up to God that we don’t always get things right. By confessing our sins, we can rely on total forgiveness by our loving God. The difference between a hypocrite and penitent sinner is that a hypocrite does not either see their hypocrisy or choses not to see it.
    2. Secondly, we can ask for God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to live lives worthy of being called Christians. We cannot do this on our own. Through his Spirit, God can lead us into holier actions and lifestyles. This is not about being ‘holier than thou’, but about being in tune with God and his plans for us. One way of looking at is by asking this question of ourselves each day: How today can I demonstrate that I am a follower of Jesus in the things that I say and do? True worship of God is living the Gospel, not just what we do on a Sunday.
  2. Secondly, there is the St Matthews corporate walk with God.

    How we act as the people of God in this community is critically important. When I speak to people who have had a history or a brush with church the most common complaint, I hear are people who go to church being hypocritical and they always cite examples. I usually answer this by saying that as Christians we are sinners who recognise we haven’t got it right and need the grace of God in our lives. That is why we go to church.

One of the factors in me quitting church and faith as a teenager was that I came to the conclusion rightly or wrongly that those who attended the church I went to ‘were a bunch of hypocrites.’ Whilst it wasn’t the only factor, the key thing was that although they had the outward appearance of being friendly, I felt they weren’t particularly interested in me or my family. This feeling was embodied in the son of one of the well to do families who was about my age and was in the year above me at the school we attended. He was top set and excelled at all sports and of course had all the best kit and by all accounts a model Christian teenager. I, however, was in the bottom set at school and didn’t make the school teams. He barely said hello to me at church and at school he blanked me completely if I made any attempt at conversation. One day I woke up and thought I don’t ever want to set foot in that place ever again or go to a church like it.

Enacting the greatest commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart and neighbour as ourselves, starts here in church. As disciples of Jesus, we come from all sorts of backgrounds and have all sorts of histories, just like those first disciples. As followers of Jesus, we are brothers and sisters in Christ and as such need to be more than ‘a friendly place’ we need to be a community of love.

I would like to finish with a couple of thoughts.

  • As brothers and sisters in Christ how well do we know each other—do we know each other as a sister or brother would? During lockdown in the breakout groups we had some wonderful sharing which enabled us to get to know each other better. Because it was random we didn’t gravitate to those we know well. How can we replicate this now we are back in church?
  • Again in the lockdown breakout groups we also encouraged each other in our faith by praying for each other. By building each other up to be more Christlike, the less likely we are to be hypocritical in our thoughts, words and deeds.

There will be a video version of the service.

Share this on Facebook