This passage is unique, in that it’s the only record in the New Testament, explaining why Jews do what they do in their oral traditions from the law of Moses. It is one of the reasons most Christians believe the gospel of Mark was written to a non-Jewish audience, maybe even Rome itself. “Unclean hands” are not dirty hands, they are hands which have not gone through “ritual washing”. Here are passages instructing hand washing for Priests (Ex. 30:19, 21, 40:31) For anyone with bodily fluids issued (Lev. 15:11), for anyone touching corpses (Dt. 21:6). None of these verses reference meal preparation! They weren’t interested in hygiene, it was about making your hands spiritually clean to receive God’s blessings or to do God’s work. The same thought is connected with lifting “holy” hands in prayer, 1st Tim. 2:8, yet there was no washing for Peter and Christians, because our whole life is made acceptable, that is holy by the blood of Christ. But if we don’t live a life worthy (sin) of this good news of holiness by His blood, then we make ourselves unacceptable by our sinfulness, not by the fact that we do not wash our hands. What do Christian wash to become acceptable to God? See 1st Peter 3:20-21.
In the eyes of the Pharisees, “The tradition of the elders” was sort of a test case for whether or not Jesus and his disciples respected the Law of Moses. The Pharisees assumed that the best way to obey the Law of Moses and respect God was to “hold fast to many traditions”. But Jesus wanted to show them that to obey the Law should be about doing what it says, regardless of the fathers’ traditions. Even in the most simple commandment of honoring your parents, Ex. 20:12 & Dt. 5:16, a child could exempt themselves by gifting money to God in the Temple, and that money would replace their obligation to help (honor) their parents. In God’s eyes, Jesus saw this as having “no regard for the command of God”, v8. But Jews regarded Jesus and his disciples as “defiled” because what they ate was eaten with hands not washed. When Jesus stated that “what comes out of a person is what defiles him” v15, what was he talking about?
Do we as the church have any traditions which would excuse us from doing what Christ actually says we should do? Think about it, pray about it, and watch out for any traditions/practices that we may be doing that would actually be replacing what Christ tells us to do.
This list of sins in Mark 7:21-22 provides nothing unexpected (we see similar lists in Romans 1:29-31; Galatians 5:19-21, and 2 Timothy 3:2-5), it adds another layer of meaning to Jesus’ message. Each of these particular vices is, in some way, a sin of consumption. Adultery, theft, avarice, envy, pride — each of these springs from a desire to take, to grasp, to own, to devour. The corruption of the human heart is rooted in our desire to bare our fangs into other things, other than the enemy! This is why Jesus does not reject purity laws here. It turns out that our consumption (or lack thereof) does affect our hearts. If our desire for self-satisfaction is allowed to run rampant, we become insatiable consumers: of things, of course, but also of pleasure, of people, even of our own energy. (How good do you actually feel after spending a day binge-watching something on Netflix?) Bare your fangs into what is wrong (the enemies), and kill it! If you’ve got the desire to attack anything, attack sin. “All these evils come from within and defile a person”, v23