Mark 7

Read Mark 7.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were careful to observe the ceremonial washings that other men had created (vv. 1-4) so they were offended when Jesus and his disciples did not follow that ceremony (v. 5).

Jesus used their complaint to charge them with hypocrisy for holding religiously to man-made traditions while looking for religious reasons to avoid doing God’s will (vv. 6-13). Christ used the specific example of “corban” to illustrate this sinful choice. Let me explain what “corban” is: One of the Ten Commandments was to “honor your father and mother” (v. 10). We teach this command to children and of course it applies to them. But the command was originally given to adults which suggests that there were responsibilities that adults had to their parents. Honoring one’s parents may mean giving them financial assistance as they get older. Their society had no concept like “retirement” and no financial way to prepare for getting older, so an elderly person would have to work until he/she died or live on the support of their children. Jesus applied the commandment to honor your parents to this kind of financial support. To Christ, if you want to honor your parents, you’d better share your home, your food, and/or your income when they have needs. This is a very logical application of the commandment to honor your parents.

BUT: the most religious people in Jesus’ society found a way to use their religious rules to render themselves unable to help their parents. They would take a portion of their income or some of their assets and make an oath to give that to God–someday. That’s what “corban” means, a gift dedicated to God.

If something has been dedicated to God, then it would be morally wrong to give it to someone else, even their own elderly parents. That’s what people did to retain wealth instead of providing for their elderly parents. That is what Jesus is objecting to in Mark 7:11.

The very religious people in Jesus’s audience here in Mark 7 intentionally applied God’s word in ways that helped them avoid the difficult applications of other portions of God’s word. In the words of Jesus, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (v. 9).

Do we do that? Do we ever apply scripture in ways that let us off the hook for obeying other passages of scripture? If we use the truth of God’s electing grace as an excuse not to share the gospel, then we are doing something like the Pharisees did. What about if we buy a large house for the good of our family but can’t tithe and pay the mortgage at the same time? What about if we volunteer to serve in one ministry in order to avoid getting into a small group or coming to the worship service?

Consider what Jesus said about this practice of the Pharisees: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”

Don’t apply one command of God’s word in a way that helps you avoid obeying another command. That reveals a heart that is distant from God, not one that wants to honor and obey him.