He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Mark 7, verses 6-8.
SMACK! It’s a hard & fearful thing to be brought to task by God. If Jesus’ words seem harsh, it’s because they are. Now, before we spin off on a tangent of “well how could a loving God X, y or z” let’s remind ourselves of a few key facts.
Jesus confronts the sinner with their sin. In this case, He confronts the Pharisees with their sin, specifically getting wrapped around the axle on some rules meant for man’s good but twisted by man for control over other men. It wasn’t the rule that was bad: it was how the Pharisees applied that rule. Such application showed idolatry (“I know better than God”) and arrogance (“Do as I say, lesser human”). Jesus doesn’t go off gossiping about what the Pharisees say and do: He responds to them there, in public, where they had first confronted Him.
Jesus holds them accountable. He called the Pharisees “hypocrites” and convicts them using words with which they, as teachers of Jewish Law, would have been familiar (the words of Isaiah the prophet). Jesus doesn’t make more of the sin than it is; He doesn’t bring up other past sins or try to cloud the issue. In confronting them with their sin, He tells them that they did it, that “You have let go”, not passing the buck or trying to water down the issue. We can only truly change if we are held accountable, if we understand that there are boundaries for our behavior and penalties for transgression.
Jesus makes it personal without personal attack. In confronting the Pharisees and holding them accountable, Jesus doesn’t belittle, denigrate, or attack them as people. He could; let’s face it, we would. But He doesn’t do that, opting, instead, to simply let His words mean what they do. They’re piercing, direct, and harsh; they’re even rightfully accusatory. But they aren’t demeaning.
Jesus’ words offer a different path. This is more implied. Did you notice the emphasis Jesus uses, namely that He outlines their sin but, in doing so, identifies the other direction they could take. “Their hearts are far from me” implies “draw your heart to God.” “Worship me in vain” implies “worship me in love.” “You have let go of the commands of God” means “come back to my righteous law.” Read up on Jesus and you’ll find that’s always consistent. He never accuses without holding open the door (and the possibility) for repentance and return.
Finally, Jesus’ love doesn’t compromise. He talks about the heart, about what it is inside a man that makes him man. When He talks about sin, when He holds us (and the Pharisees) accountable, when He makes our sins personal, and when He offers us a different path, Jesus is keeping His holy love holy. That love wouldn’t be love if He didn’t. Jesus says what He says to the Pharisees – and to us – not just to convict them (while offering insight for others to see) but He does so out of tough love.
He still does for us, each and every day.
Lord, please confront me with my sin, hold me accountable, offer me Your path, and bless You for Your holy love.
Read Mark 7, verses 1-23.