Here's a well-used and open bible. And that's what we're doing here every few days, moving together through the Gospel of Mark. There's lots of voices out there: alluring, contentious, blaming, threatening. I want to stay on my feet, listening to the Word of Jesus. And here in these few verses Jesus continues speaking to the Pharisees and the doctors of the law. But of course, these high level religious guys are images of what's potentially to be found in any of us:
He also said to them, 'How well you set aside the commandment of God in order to maintain your tradition! Moses said, "Honor your father and your mother", and, "The man who curses his father or other must suffer death." But you hold that if a man says to his father or mother, "Anything of mine which might have been used for your benefit is Corban"' (meaning, set apart for God), he is no longer permitted to do anything for his father or mother. Thus by your own tradition, handed down among you, you make God's word null and void. And many other things that you do are just like that.' Mark 7: 9-13
In the ancient world there were no nursing homes, no home health aids, no social security, no pensions. And so an elderly parent very much depended upon his/her child (especially the son) to take care in advancing years. This requirement was encoded in religion.
But Jesus knows how we are, and so he offers this image of a fellow who doesn't want to spend a penny on his aging folks and claims that the money which would have been used for his parents in their old age has instead been given to God. It's a sad scene - not only for the parental neglect but also that religion has been exploited as a pretext for failing in such an important obligation. Jesus detests that we invalidate the things of God, playing around and twisting up the things of authentic religion.
And while this may not be news to any of us, what's got my attention this time in reading these verses is the last line where an annoyed Jesus says: "And many other things that you do are just like that." We shouldn't think for a moment that he doesn't have us in mind today. It's fair to ask: "What would Jesus dislike about our religion today?" Maybe:
we've got all the truth religion
theatrical, crush spontaneity religion
self-satisfied, just-give-me-that-old-time religion
self-righteous, demonizing religion
quietist (do nothing/just pray) religion
business as usual religion
twenty minute Mass religion
I'm not into that justice stuff religion
answer for everything religion
no questions allowed religion
no heart, conveyor belt religion
quote the bible condemning religion
single issue religion
these little insecure and
and power-crazed Pharisee guys
are lurking inside and all around us.
Send them packing, please,
that our hearts and minds
would be fixed on you alone
and that we would be free
to love other people well.
Physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking said, "In the future science will be mysticism and scientists will be mystics." Then the interviewer asked, "Why aren't you religious?" And Mr. Hawkings answered, "Your god is too small."
Religion has humble work to do, so to free up the God we keep too small. And for Christians that means a serious, non-moralistic, embrace of the Gospels as a transformative spiritual way.