Are You A Hypocrite? Good Come Join Us

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Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Mark 7: 1 – 23.  Focus on the issue of Hypocrisy and why it’s so damaging when leaders are hypocrites.  Also check out Rasaan Bourke & John Kim as they sing a new arrangement of Amazing Grace.

My father told me this story about my grandfather who was a Presbyterian minister in Ottawa, Illinois. My grandfather served the Ottawa congregation for 40 years and during that time period as you might imagine he had made his share of admirers and detractors in the community. But there was this one man who upon seeing my grandfather would always cross over the street to walk on the other side away from my grandfather.

At some point my grandfather asked the man why he did this. And his reply was: “Because the church you represent is filled with a bunch of hypocrites. To which my grandfather responded. “Why not join us? We can always welcome one more.”

And that is what Jesus is dealing with when it comes to the Scribes and Pharisees. And what Jesus is upending is the political and theological presuppositions that they say are from God when in fact they are from man-made constructs to keep their society ordered in a certain way – A way that benefits the Judean elites who made up about 5% of the Jewish population.

The elites lived in towns and cities and had access, time and money for the water needed to follow the Pharisaic interpretations of what constituted cleanliness and what didn’t. The 95% of the population who didn’t have easy access, time or money were commonly referred to by the Pharisees as the Am ha’aretz – which means “the dirty people of the land” – a derogatory term for those who lived outside of the cities and towns.

The Pharisees ask Jesus “Why do your disciples not walk about according to the tradition of the elders, but with common hands, i.e. Hands of the Am ha’aretz, they eat the bread?

Jesus responds to this question with an attack on the authority of the Pharisees and scribes – quoting from Isaiah he accuses them of leaving behind the Torah for man-made precepts. What Jesus is critiquing here is the oral tradition of the Pharisees. Besides the written Bible the Pharisees also passed on their tradition of interpreting the scriptures over generations as having equal weight to the actual words of God in the Torah.

Jesus calls them “hypocrites.” Why? Because they “let go” the commands of God and “held fast” to human interpretations that did not come from God. In other words, they subvert true Torah – God’s word – with their “oral law” which Jesus dismisses as mere “human tradition.”

Jesus’ critique accused the Pharisees of disobeying the fourth commandment – to honor your father and mother on the issue of korban. Korban was money or land willed to the Temple in Jerusalem. The family at large could no longer use these assets and once given to the temple could not be taken back if the family fell into hard economic times.

Think of this as a reverse mortgage of sorts, whereby an insurance company or bank allows the original owners to remain in their home until they no longer can, but once they can’t live in their home it turns over to the Temple in Jerusalem and can no longer benefit the family.

Thus the human tradition of korban involved breaking the commandment of God to honor one’s parents. The human tradition of willing your property to the temple Jesus says actually opposes Moses’ law – The one given by God to Moses at Mount Sinai. And since the land was a way of passing on an economic safety net from generation to generation, this idea of giving it to the temple to pay off your sins was undercutting the very reason God had given the fourth commandment in the first place. Korban was yet another example of the Temple’s economic exploitation of the poor.

By raising the issue of korban, Jesus is tying the scribes to the Pharisees. The scribes received their salary from the Temple. And while the Pharisees did not receive a salary from the Temple they nonetheless supported its practice. By tying the scribes and Pharisees together with the Temple establishment in the public mind and by using this connection Jesus is seeking to undermine their credibility with the dirty people of the land.

This is but one more example of how politically shrewd Jesus was when it came to debating his opponents and why they were so anxious to get rid of him.

What this raises for us today is this humbling question that we should be asking of ourselves as Christians. Whom do I sanctimoniously spurn as impure, unclean, dirty, contaminated, and in my mind, see as being far from God?

Is it the mentally ill? Or what about people who have been married two or three times, or what about wealthy executives, or welfare recipients? What about people who hold liberal or conservative political views, or maybe its gay and lesbian people?

The question for us becomes: How have I distorted the self-sacrificing, egalitarian love of God into self-serving, exclusionary elitism? What boundaries do I wrongly build? We need to pray for a Christian community shaped not by the ethos and politics of purity, but by the ethos of and a politics of compassion.” When we do this we honor God and we live. When we don’t we wither and die. Maybe this is one of the things an ever-shrinking denomination might want to look at and fix in order to be more like Jesus and less like the Pharisees and Scribes.

As my grandfather said to that man who charged that the church is filled with hypocrites, Why not come join us in the business of being transformed from a hypocrite into someone who walks the talk of Jesus today. Amen



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