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Bible Study Guide for Sunday, August 29, 2021

August 24, 2021
  • Song of Solomon 2:8-13
  • Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
  • James 1:17-27
  • Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I’ve been riding out COVID season with my family for the last year and a half.  Last week my five-year-old nephew came over for the afternoon and dinner and asked us, rather accusingly, “Aren’t you going to wash your hands before you eat?” Here the Pharisees asked a similar question and Jesus’ reaction seems excessive! Perhaps Jesus should have listened to our reading from James: “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.”  The purity customs they are referring to aren’t strictly in Scripture. They developed through tradition but that doesn’t mean they are bad. This is centuries before any germ theory of disease developed, but frequently washing your hands and cooking utensils turns out to be a very good thing indeed. So why in the world would Jesus start ranting about hypocrisy here?

Our lectionary editors are not doing us any favors here, as our appointed reading skips around the chapter. If we look at the full text, things may make more sense. Jesus is upset at a pattern of missing the forest for the trees. These same people had also developed a practice of dedicating their money to the Temple while neglecting their own families’ needs. If they were neglecting their families in order to increase their own standard of living, that would rightly be considered selfish.  But they aren’t doing that. Since they are dedicating that money to God they are considered generous and devout while their own parents need help.  Of course it is a good thing to give generously to the work of God, but any good thing can also be corrupted. While God never asks for more than we have to give, human institutions then and now will often celebrate their major donors and it can be tempting to seek out that applause. God, however, is not at all impressed.

In a similar sort of way, there is nothing wrong and a whole lot right with washing your hands.  There is nothing wrong with using handwashing as a ritual to symbolize spiritual purity as well. It is however very easy to confuse the ritual itself for the spiritual purity it points to.  It is much easier to maintain purity rituals precisely than to actually cleanse our hearts of immorality, greed, and deceit.  It’s easy to start thinking that by performing all our liturgies absolutely correctly we have done what really matters.  But God is not impressed. – Kristen Filipic

  • What are our modern purity rituals? How can those rituals sometimes be corrupted?
  • What are some ways we can use something good to neglect something more important?


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