Sunday Devotion 29th of August 2021

For the church of St. Mark’s physically distanced but connected in heart

in the midst of uniting against COVID-19 Delta

A Song to begin with as a prayer –

My Hope is built (In You Alone) by Aaron Strumpel (feat. Page CXVI)

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Lyrics here:

Be attentive to the voice of hope. Notice what this hope is for. Where does hope lead us? What do you hope for? Where is it leading you? Where is the dwelling place of hope? Make this Psalm your prayer.

Psalm 15

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?  Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;

who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

in whose eyes the ways of the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord;

who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money just for gain, and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Scripture reading: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands,[a] thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it;[b] and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.[c]So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live[d] according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

I am reading a novel at the moment. I don’t know whether I like it but I am persisting with it. However, there is a part which drew my attention. I want to share it with you. Refugees have poured into a neighbouring country. A group of well to do, high-class, influential people, well-intentioned, invites a few of the refugees to tell their experience. A refugee describes Nazi SS troops terrorising her town, how she escaped with her daughter. The novel told in the third person describes the reaction of the group:

There’s a sharp intake of breath at her language. Pissing. The word shocks the audience more than anything else, more than the fact that women have been beaten up or that the butcher was lying there in the gutter….

Intriguing, isn’t it? Can we really be more affronted by a person’s vernacular language – “pissing” – than the violence and injustice perpetrated against fellow humans? Are we capable of this? Can we get this low?

In the reading, the Pharisees encounter Jesus’ disciples. The Pharisees are perplexed and offended by the disciples’ misconduct. The Pharisees have a religious code of conduct that they take to be the rule of life. These have been observed over generations passed on to them by their elders. The tradition seeking to be faithful found ways to become “purer.”

They are upset, therefore, that Jesus’ disciples aren’t following the rules. From where they stand the disciples are flouting the rule. They are being disrespectful to the tradition, illustrating their vulgarity of indecency, and unashamed of their incorrect behaviour. So they become religiously defiled, as well as, endangering others from becoming defiled coming into contact.

Jesus reacts. Almost overreacts. He admonishes the Pharisees strongly. Effectively he says that they are all words and no substance, a clanging cymbal. They stand for human tradition when they should stand for God’s commands. Isn’t this intriguing? What makes Jesus so angry?

Some see this as Jesus being a libertarian, who is all for freedom, who despises rules. Some interpret Jesus as a man of flexibility, Jesus who advocates freedom against rules. Such portrayal of Jesus is truly misleading. Indeed, if anyone thinks Jesus would advocate lockdown protests is misguided.

The context into which the Pharisees question, if not, accuse Jesus and those who follow him of defiling, is not a pandemic. The Pharisees frame it in this way, of course. There is a religious pandemic, wash your hands, keep away! Jesus turns the table around that such view of the religion of the true God is outrightly wrong.

What defiles a person is not lack of or non-existence of observance of religious codes, rather the evil intentions of the heart. What our heart is made of and what manifests from this fountain will determine who is defiled, stained and unclean. Elsewhere, in the Scriptures, it says: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by a world [that lives to the contrary].” (James 1:27)

But why would Jesus be so angry? In chapter 6, we hear that the disciples didn’t even have time to eat because of attending to the needs of others (Mark 6:31). They have been sent out by Jesus to proclaim the Good News of God at the mercy of people’s purity of heart – their generosity. They have just returned.

Now, will you deny the disciples of food because they have not washed their hands? Will you really be affronted by unwashed hands, when human need for food is what is at hand? Are you really this low? Is your heart really this cold and hardened? Will you not listen and understand the story of the people? Do away with your respectability, decency, being correct!


Questions for Prayerful Reflection

What are you offended by? What do you find unclean? At one sight, at one word, at one sniff, what would turn you off, look the other way, have no time for?

Be open and honest to God. Does an incident come to mind in your life where your sensibility got the better of you to overlook what was truly at hand?


Will you allow Christ to dwell in your heart? Let Christ be your heart, to rejoice in what Christ rejoices in, to be angry with what Christ is angry with, to weep with Christ, to make home for one another with Christ.

A song for prayerful reflection:

Teach us your ways by Porter’s Gate (feat. Leslie Jordan)

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A song to sing along!

Take my life and let it be

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The Benediction:

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the Love of God,

and the Communion of the Holy Spirit

be with us all, now and always, Amen.