Washing in our Brokenness

August 29, 2021

Mark 7:1-8, 14-23

An argument about handwashing!

How fitting for where we are today. Not too many argue about the benefits of washing hands. However, we have seen plenty of protests in favor and against vaccines and/or mask wearing. It is amazing to hear some of the things that have come out of people’s mouths and ultimately their hearts. A pollution which divides.

This is of course the latest hot button issue. There have been plenty others before and there will be plenty more after we are on the other side of this pandemic. It reflects our brokenness as humans to be in relationship with each other. We are reminded this morning that God offers love and mercy in our brokenness.

Our gospel lesson this morning is not about handwashing. It is about something much greater. While the Pharisees question the disciples washing their hands before a meal, there is no such law commanding them to do so. The closest thing we can point to in scripture is the requirement of priests to wash their hands before the meal. Jesus calls out the hypocrisy as he sees it. The Pharisees are pointing to what had become a human tradition of washing your hands before a meal. It is something we encourage our children to do before every mealtime. It is especially a good practice at this time, but one which should be followed all the time. Whether or not the disciples wash their hands does not reflect their relationship or respect in connection with God. The Pharisees are more concerned about looking proper than truly worshipping God.

Jesus makes a transition in the conversation by stating the action of the Pharisees leads them farther away from God. While they are busy disparaging Jesus’ disciples, they could be welcoming them in. We witness this throughout Jesus’ ministry as he invites everyone to the table regardless of their status. The Pharisees remarks reflect what is truly in their hearts.

We have known people like the Pharisees. At first appearance they may seem great. However, once we get talking to them, we come to learn much differently. Their heart is revealed in their speech. These are people we tend to shy away from. Jesus engages them in conversation.

In an older movie, As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson plays romance author Melvin Udall. You would think his ability to write romance novels would mean he was full of love. The compete opposite is true! Melvin Udall has few things if anything nice to say to any person whom he encounters. He is confronting and insulting from the first time he meets anyone. He does manage to befriend his neighbor and a waitress, and they will go on a road trip together. We can begin to glimpse a change in Melvin and the tough rude exterior starts to peel away. What came out of Melvin’s mouth polluted his surroundings and people could not get away from him quick enough.

Back in our gospel lesson, the Pharisees seem to have an issue with what is clean and unclean. As Jesus shares with them, what we eat and ingest all comes out the same in the end. It does not matter what we put into our stomach. That is not what defiles or pollutes us. Once again, Jesus is steering them back to God and what God is fully calling them to do.  What pollutes us is what we take into our hearts and turn around and spew onto others. Jesus’ list is pretty complete. It is the obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness which pollutes from the heart. Every single human being is capable of this pollution, and we could all be found guilty at one time or another.

We witness this easily played out on social media. There is something about not having a person in front of you which allows some people to spew their verbal diarrhea onto others. The vomit as the Message translation tells us. And that is exactly what it is. For some, their smart phone or computer seems to erase any filter they may have. Pollution runs rampant on social media and steers us away from God’s love.

The negative things we ingest can have an influence on us. Personally, I have stepped away from using Facebook as much because of the negativity which I could take part in daily if I chose to. It is important to be careful of what we take in and thus what our actions are reflecting. There is an old comic strip Pogo, which has a famous line, “We have met the enemy and it is us.” We can be our own worst enemies when we open our mouths, and it reflects the brokenness which constitutes us being human.

Jesus draws us away from this pollution. By opening our hearts to his teaching, we are given the ability to substitute the negativity we encounter with words of hope and healing. But are we simply hearers of the word or are we doers? Do our actions reflect the love which God offers to us? Following the words of Jesus allows us to orient our hearts to God and it is revealed in our faithful actions. It is the rituals and doctrines we encounter that shape our lives. Are they human rituals or are they ones which draw us closer to God? The proof is found in our care for others.

As we follow Jesus, he invites us to see everything the way he sees it. He has a clean heart and to see through his eyes brings us to a deeper relationship with him. Jesus invites us into a transformation where we see the creation, society, and even our religion through his eyes.[i] In this invitation, we come to know our true hearts.

We have all encountered someone like Melvin Udall who does not seem to have one nice thing to say to or about anyone. These people take a lot of energy and Christian is probably the last thing that comes to mind when describing them. Yet, they also make it much easier to find those who are leading with a heart of Christ. To lead with a heart of Christ brings us to the gospel message, one of grace. It is a message for us in our brokenness, knowing that at one time or another we are going to participate in one of the items which defiles or pollutes the world around us. Jesus brings a message of love and mercy which redeems us as we repent and open our hearts to God’s love. God’s love brings hope to a broken world.


[i] Joel Marcus.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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