Mark 7:5–8 (ESV) — 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
You can imagine that the washing of hands started as an innocuous enough tradition. I mean, who doesn’t like to have clean hands before they eat, or come from the market. But somewhere along the lines, it became more than just good practice. A committee was probably formed to make sure that before people ate, they washed their hands. Then censures were put in place to make sure that people followed what had now passed from tradition to law. And so the good practice of handwashing became the measure of “true godliness.” Jesus comes and sets that on its head because it is not what goes in that defiles, but what comes out. You can imagine a similar situation happening amid our current pandemic. We can all agree that it is good to wash our hands, and using hand sanitizer is helpful. But what happens when, as a community, we start to break off fellowship with those who seem cavalier when they try to shake your hand. Soon a committee will be formed to enforce cleanliness laws, then censures. What happens is we forget that helpful practices, like all good gifts from God, can be turned and used for opposite ends. If we can turn the Lord’s supper into a place of disunity (1 Cor. 11:17-34), trust me, we can make handwashing into the same. Fear is driving much of our public discourse surrounding COVID-19, but remember that God has fixed the number of our days, and the sting of death has been removed, such that we can have no fear. Now, this doesn’t mean we are unwise and throw off good practices. Jesus is not teaching that. But he is teaching that we should be much more concerned with our heart attitude than actually enforcing a practice. For the sake of your neighbor, you should go above and beyond to make them feel comfortable–so wear the mask, wash your hands, and stay at home if needs be. But make sure that you are doing, or not doing it, from the motive of glorifying God. Always be examining your heart.
Father, thank you that in Christ, you have taken away the power of death, and given us the hope of the resurrection. Take away our fear and replace it with joy. Keep us amid this pandemic from being divisive, from elevating good practice to law. Keep us also from being uncaring and unkind in our cavalier approach to loving our neighbor. As your word teaches, we are to go out of our way not to put a stumbling block before others. Above all gives us the peace of Christ, so that we may shine as lights amid a time of fear and anxiety. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.