After several weeks of John’s Gospel, we return to Mark for the rest of this church year. In our reading today, the Pharisees confront Jesus because his disciples are not observing tradition concerning cleansing before eating.
1st Reading (Track 1): Song of Solomon 2:8-13
The Song of Solomon (also known as the Song of Songs) is a collection of love poems. They are unique in the Bible because of their expression of human sexual desire. They may have been included in the Hebrew Scriptures to emphasize the importance of the values of mutual love and fidelity. Christian interpretation has used them as an allegory of the loving relationship between Christ and his people. If nothing else, more commentaries have been written throughout the ages on this book than on any other.
2:8 The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. 9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. 10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10 (Track 1)
Psalm 45 is, in essence, a love song, probably written to be sung at a royal wedding. The writer is a court poet, addressing the king and his court in luxurious and flattering language.
1 My heart is stirring with a noble song;
let me recite what I have fashioned for the king; *
my tongue shall be the pen of a skilled writer.
2 You are the fairest of men; *
grace flows from your lips,
because God has blessed you for ever.
7 Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever, *
a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom;
you love righteousness and hate iniquity.
8 Therefore God, your God, has anointed you *
with the oil of gladness above your fellows.
9 All your garments are fragrant with myrrh, aloes, and cassia, *
and the music of strings from ivory palaces makes you glad.
10 King’s daughters stand among the ladies of the court; *
on your right hand is the queen,
adorned with the gold of Ophir.
1st Reading (Track 2): Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Deuteronomy is the account of the last words of Moses and consists in several long speeches given by him to the people. The first ends in chapter 4. The first speech is an admonition to obey the law as a whole. He has reminded the people of the past, of God’s saving actions and their constant rebellion. At the end of the speech here he turns toward the future, promising that their obedience will be rewarded with possession of the land they have been promised. But they must remember and tell.
4:1 So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you. 6 You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” 7 For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8 And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today? 9 But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.
Psalm 15 (Track 2)
Psalm 15 was probably used as an entrance liturgy by pilgrims into the Temple. It is essentially a list of requirements for worshippers. There are ten requirements listed in verses two through six.
1 Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
Who may abide upon your holy hill?
2 Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
who speaks the truth from his heart.
3 There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend; *
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.
4 In his sight the wicked is rejected, *
but he honors those who fear the Lord.
5 He has sworn to do no wrong, *
and does not take back his word.
6 He does not give his money in hope of gain, *
nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
7 Whoever does these things *
shall never be overthrown.
2nd Reading: James 1:17-27
We will spend the next five weeks reading the Letter of James (traditionally attributed to the brother of Jesus). The letter is written out of the wisdom tradition of ancient Israel. Jesus is mentioned only twice in the letter, although it is obvious that it is written to an organized Christian community. One of the great themes of James is the right relationship between rich and poor, primarily the obligation the former has to the latter. A related theme is the necessity of faith acted out. Both themes are present in this passage.
1:17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. 19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. 26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Gospel Reading: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
After several weeks of John’s Gospel, we return to Mark for the rest of this church year. In our reading today, the Pharisees confront Jesus because his disciples are not observing tradition concerning cleansing before eating. It’s important to understand that what is going on here has nothing to do with hygiene. Ritual purity was an essential characteristic of the Judaism practiced by the Pharisees. Jesus critiques this brand of religion, saying that it too often misses the heart of the matter. What should be central is the condition of one’s heart and its orientation to the world. The quote in verses 6-7 is from Isaiah is 29:13, as it was translated into Greek.
7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ 8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” 14 The he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
The Scripture readings (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available by subscription.