The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles). Mark 7, verses 1-4.
“Wrapped around the axle” is one of my favorite metaphors. I credit my friend John A with first using it and I’ve adopted it as one of my go-to phrases when my team gets, well, wrapped around the axle over some small issue.
It perfectly describes the Pharisees. Come to think of it, it describes you and me.
You see, (if you don’t know much about them) the Pharisees were devout Jews. They impeccably practiced Judaism and strived hard to obey as many of Moses’ many commands as they could? You thought Moses only handed down Ten Commandments? That’s true, but God also spoke more commands through Moses, to the people. Those commands, such as what to eat, when to wash, with whom to associate, were all meant to help the people live out those Ten Commandments. And those Ten Commandments were meant to point the people towards their undeniable, irreconcilable need for God in all things.
Leave it to a bunch of preachers and teachers to get all wrapped around the axle about something like that.
But how are we different? Do we get overly focused on little things? Do you or I become so absorbed with doing things that we forget why we’re doing them? That was the Pharisees’ problem. They had forgotten why they were observing these codes, adhering to the religion without clinging to the faith. They got all wrapped around the axle over problems like hand-washing, ceremonial cleanness, touching other people, what to eat and where, when to ‘work’ and not to work.
Tell me, friend reader, have you done that lately? I know I have. I manage a 2000 line project plan that contains most (not all) of the details in the work my project team is doing. It’s easy to get wrapped up in accomplishing the small details while losing sight of just why we’re doing them. It’s easy, too, for me to criticize the hypocritical Pharisees without recognizing my, um, Pharisaical nature in my everyday life.
Wrapped around the axle again. The cure for the common axle-wrap is, you guessed it: Jesus.
There’s a song on Christian radio right now that sings, “just say Jesus.” When you don’t know what to say, just say Jesus. When you find yourself mired in the details, just say Jesus. When you are at wits’ end, stressed over the kids, lost in the country, scared of tomorrow, or overwhelmed by 300 channels of satellite TV, just say Jesus. When you’re getting all wrapped around the axle, just say Jesus. That’s the point of the whole Bible, you know: for us to just say Jesus. For us to focus on Jesus instead of the details because, when we focus first on Jesus, the details work themselves out.
Lord, help me to avoid getting all wrapped around the axle over things that aren’t You.
Read Mark 7, verses 1-23.