“Clean and Unclean” – Mark 7:1-13
14 th Sunday After Pentecost – August 26, 2018
Pre-service discussion: Tell a story of being perfectionist, meticulous about cleaning something.
1. Are you a clean freak?
My uncle had an aunt who was a clean freak – everything was spotless.
Signs you may be a clean freak – some jobs can’t wait until morning, cleaning product booths at
PNE are compelling, open shelves are just dust collectors waiting to happen.
2. Pharisees were all about clean and unclean
Cups, pitchers, kettles (the rules) AND hands!
Complained that Jesus’ disciples eat with unclean hands.
Jesus’ comment: they put more emphasis on the traditions of men than on the commands of God.
They pay lip service to God’s things, they do the right things but for the wrong reasons – “their
hearts are far from me.” That’s an indictment! The appearance of godliness but not the
substance. What a sad, pitiable spirituality!
Does that describe you? Outside – looks godly; inside – empty. Heart far from God? If that
describes your spiritual condition today, stay tuned for some heart surgery!!
Pharisees were also concerned about clean and unclean people – mostly unclean!
Tax-collectors, prostitutes, lepers “unclean, unclean,” Gentiles (not just physically, but morally,
culturally, spiritually). Avoid! Despise! Ignore! Ostracize!
And then… because Jesus didn’t treat the “unclean” people like the Pharisees did, they criticized
Jesus, complained, murmured against him. Luke 15 leading to the parable of the Prodigal Son.
I’ll get to Jesus’ treatment of the “unclean” people in a moment, but first…
3. Peter was all about clean and unclean foods
Peter… attitude of Pharisees was so ingrained in 1 st cent. Jewish society that we find it in disciple
Peter, even after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
Story of Cornelius, but vision of unclean foods – EAT! No, thank you! “Don’t call / consider
anything unclean that God has made clean.” Peter was meant to apply this axiom to people, to
Cornelius (a Gentile!). Peter had to learn (experience with Cornelius, vision of unclean food) that
all people are acceptable to God, no one is unclean.
4. Jesus was all about making the unclean clean
a. The things – NOT!
Jesus was different… He wasn’t so concerned about the rules. Did you know that? Maybe that
doesn’t sound right… you think Jesus is all about rules, but He wasn’t… because these rules
were the rules of the Pharisees. Broke Sabbath rules – picking grain, healing people. Criticized!!
Jesus wasn’t concerned about unclean things, or unclean food. In fact, a few verses later in Mark
7, Jesus says that nothing that enters a man from outside makes him unclean, because it goes into
his stomach. Mark’s editorial comment – Jesus declared all foods “clean.” (Woo-hoo – yay for
bacon, ribs, pork chops, yay for lobster, yay for drinking milk with my steak! Rules – out!)
At the same time Jesus said what makes a person unclean is what comes out of him. We’ll hear
that in a couple of weeks – that it’s attitudes of greed, malice, arrogance and folly and it’s actions
of sexual immorality, theft and murder that make a person unclean.
b. The people – YES!
While Jesus wasn’t so concerned about unclean things and food, He was concerned about the
unclean people, in a good way! In contrast to the Pharisees who avoided them, Jesus hung
around with those on the fringes of society: Samaritan woman, Zacchaeus, lepers, man born
blind (sinner!), Mary Magdalene (prostitute), Canaanite woman (next Sunday), children, Gentile
centurion in Capernaum, sinful woman in the home of Simon the Pharisee. I don’t think there
was one person in the Gospels that Jesus avoided and considered so “unclean” that He wouldn’t
talk to or interact with that person. (maybe next week’s Canaanite woman – your daughter
doesn’t deserve healing – you’re a foreigner!) Pharisees… No self-respecting Jew, especially
rabbi, would associate with those people! That’s exactly the criticism in Luke 15… welcomes
and eats with. (eating = association)
But what did Jesus do with those people?
Asked Samaritan woman for a drink, conversation.
Invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner, with his cheating tax collector friends.
Touched the lepers (and healed them).
Healed the man born blind.
Held and blessed little children.
Healed centurion’s servant.
Allowed sinful woman to anoint his feet with her own tears of remorse and then perfume.
Jesus didn’t turn away unclean people. In fact, after dinner at Zacc’s house, He said, “I have
come to seek and save the lost (the unclean).” And when he had dinner at Matt’s house (another
tax-collector), He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (the unclean).” And
when He was dying on the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them – forgive the soldiers who
crucified me, forgive the Pharisees who accused me, and forgive the unclean people I rubbed
shoulders with day after day. Forgive them all!”
Psalm 24 – Q: Who may ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place? A: He who has
clean hands and a pure heart!
Who is that? None of us!! Not one of us has a pure heart. Not one of us has clean hands. None of
us deserves to stand in the Lord’s holy place. But Jesus’ words from the cross echo down
through the centuries to us… “Forgive NAME, Forgive NAME, Forgive NAME. Forgive them
all!” And we are forgiven… each one of us… for all of our sins… for all of our uncleanness. We
are forgiven so that we can honour God with our lips AND our hearts!! And hopefully also our
lives. That’s Jesus’ heart surgery on us – taking our impure hearts, and forgiving, cleaning,
changing – drawing them close to Him in love and faith and sincerity.
5. The unclean today
How do we honour God with our lives? Perhaps one way is by treating the unclean in the same
way as Jesus did.
Who are the people we consider unclean these days? What people are on the outside looking in?
Who would we consider to be on the fringe of society? People that we despise?
God For Us (1988) – Who does society not value, respect? (unclean) unemployed, handicapped
(those with physical or mental or social health challenges), drug-pushers, child-abusers.
In times past, we as a Western society labeled a few groups of people as “unclean” / people to
avoid because of their station in life, their attitudes, their lifestyle, their health, their actions. I’m
not going to name / identify them, but you probably have some in mind. (PAUSE) And maybe
you were one of the ones that developed a “don’t touch” approach to these people without ever
having gotten to know even one of them.
Our world is changing, and attitudes toward those who were considered “unclean” 40 or 50 years
ago have softened to some degree. But there are new groups of people that we would now
include in the “unclean” / avoid category. Again, I’m not going to name them, but you’re
thinking of some. The fringes of society have just gone out a little farther or in a different
direction. But just as in Jesus’ day, so in our day there are those that are generally considered to
be people that we judge without having talked with them, ones that we steer clear of at all costs.
Oh, they all have their actions and attitudes of uncleanness… sinfulness. But that doesn’t make
them any less a human being. They may have unhealthy / messy lives / spirituality – but then we
all do! In our own ways, we all live on the fringe of a relationship with Jesus. We might all
identify with one of the 7 deadly sins: pride, gluttony, lust, greed, envy, sloth (laziness), wrath.
Add to that self-centeredness. I know I’m convicted by that list.
But we are all human beings and we are all redeemable. By God’s grace we are all forgiven for
our uncleanness by that Redeemer, that Saviour who hung on a cross in our place.
So, honour God with your lips and your heart and your life by dealing with the unclean just as
Jesus did: Talk to a homeless person. Bend down a bit and look a man in a wheelchair in the
eyes. Give a hug to a woman in a care home who may not have experienced human touch in a
long while. Listen to a person who has struggled with depression. Spend some time with children
or teenagers who you may not relate to or understand. Open your life to people who may be on
the fringes – a LOT different from you – but who nevertheless need the love and acceptance and
forgiveness of Jesus. Let them see and find that love and acceptance and forgiveness in you.