J Foster is back with his latest in our series on discipleship…Have a read and comment below…

There are some things that were not discussed in our house before becoming parents but, oh, how life has changed in the last 2 months!

Toilet habits were very firmly on the ‘verboten’ list, but now I get daily updates when I’m at work about our little one’s ‘movements’. The other day I came home and my wife described in glorious technicolour how she had been changing our daughter’s nappy only to end up having to wipe poo off the wall! I’m told it gets even more interesting when we introduce solid food and the impact of what goes in can be seen in what comes out!

It’s all good entertainment (!) but what has all that got to do with our passage (no pun intended!)?

Well, this month we’re going to shift the focus from the disciples onto how the disciples were viewed by the Pharisees. The Pharisees had been watching the disciples around town and noticed that they didn’t wash their hands before eating and they were appalled – not because of the poor hygiene but rather because, as Mark explains, it was their custom, handed down from the elders. Not only did you have to consider the strict rules of what was and was not Kosher, you also had to wash your hands before eating both to clean them and to symbolise the ‘cleanness’ of yourself as a whole before God.

The disciples however didn’t seem to care and when the Pharisees criticised them Jesus has a few things to say…

‘He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“ ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me        in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (Mark 7:6-8 NIV)

Jesus describes how some of the Pharisees had been taking their money that they were supposed to use to look after their parents and dedicating it to God so that their parents went without.

“And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! (v9)

Moving back onto topic of eating habits…

“…Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” ” (vv14-15)

It’s worth remembering at this point that Jesus isn’t talking to ‘unbelievers’ or those outside of God’s people but those at the very heart of it. He’s talking to the equivalent of a group of preachers and church leaders. On one level he is sweeping aside the laws of Kosher and announcing that camels and crocodiles are back on the menu but he is also saying something far more profound and far reaching than that.

With such diversity in how churches meet it can be easy to think that our ‘tradition’ or way of ‘doing church’ is the right way or is more ‘alive’ than some others we see around us. Because we have a band or because we pray for people or because we don’t burn incense we encounter God, and by implication, others do not. Or perhaps, if only we had a band and didn’t have leaders who wear robes then I would meet God better…the spiritual grass, it seems is greener elsewhere.

But beware.

Jesus saw how the Pharisees had developed a way of ‘worshipping God’ that they thought was the only proper way of doing things and the disciples weren’t doing it right. And in so doing the focus had moved from meeting with Him to how or where we meet.

In this episode, Jesus is trying to get people’s attention away from the narrowness of ‘how’ and back onto the enormity of ‘who’. But even to leave it there misses the point too.

You are now entering a time of worship

Corporate services are supposed to unite us together in our faith, encourage our love for Him, be an opportunity to celebrate who He is SO THAT we can go out and live and love well for His glory.

Ultimately, does it matter what our corporate spiritual diet looks like? Not really – as long we use it to genuinely connect to Him, together with out ‘family’.

Does it matter what output it results in? Absolutely.

The Church, as Jesus is pointing out, is not the service, the mechanics of ‘how’, but the fruit of it, the ‘who’ – us with Him, working to bring His Kingdom wherever we are.

Because whilst ritual and tradition are good; it’s what it leads to for the other 166 hours and 30 minutes of the week that really matters.

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