This event of confrontation between Jesus and Pharisees takes place in the area of the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. It does not appear to be directly connected to the previous event.
Having come from Jerusalem they gather around Jesus with their list of interrogating questions. They “ganged up” on Jesus with the express goal of indicting him as a “law-breaker” and as one who allowed “law-breaking” among his followers. This was a serious offense in that it rendered Jesus and his disciples defiled. (This is the way it is for us as well. We come with our list of accusations against Jesus.)
In writing to a non-Jewish audience Mark takes particular care to explain the Jewish traditions that are at issue. However, an unexpected and great turning of the tables takes place. It is Jesus who in turn indicts them.
Note the direct address of Jesus:
“Isaiah was right when he wrote about you hypocrites.”
“…honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
“…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.”
Lenski aptly states: “Jesus is smashing not only the tradition about washing the hands, he is shattering the entire traditional system of the elders as it was held by the Pharisees and scribes. Anything that can be maintained only by ridding us of some Word of God is by that fact marked as damnable and deadly in the sight of God. The words of Jesus let this most axiomatic religious truth shine through. The statement is absolutely unanswerable.”1
“You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God
in order to observe your own traditions.”
Jesus supports his charge against them with an explanation of just how they are setting aside the commands of God (see verses 10-12). Robert Stein comments: “It is uncertain whether the support that was due to one’s parents because of God’s commandment was in fact already given to the temple, so that it was not even theoretically available for the parents, or whether it had been vowed to the temple, so that even though the gift/support was still in the son’s possession, it was no longer available to the parents but reserved for God. Regardless, the commandment of God was made void, and the son was no longer honoring his father and mother by providing for them (7:13). Thus what is a capital offense in the law (7:10) is not only permitted but even required by the Pharisaic tradition!”2
And so the concluding verdict:
“Thus you nullify the word of God
by your tradition that you have handed down.”
Lenski again: “Thus these men who imagined that they had a case against Jesus not only have their answer, a complete vindication of Jesus and his disciples, but have an indictment launched against themselves, one that is fortified with crushing, absolute proof, against which no defense is possible. The severity of this indictment indicates that Jesus is done with them. They are not merely silenced, they are actually overwhelmed.”3
This text takes aim at us as well by providing the preacher with the opportunity to lay bare the multitude of ways that we honor God with lips, yet have hearts that are far away; let go of God’s commands; hang on to our traditions; setting aside what God has said, and ultimately nullifying God’s word. As Paul says, our mouths are stopped and we are without excuse. We not only make of no effect the law but seeking to establish a righteousness of our own doing that makes us right and pleasing to God we also nullify the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But, then steps in Jesus. The gospel needs to be added to this text for it alone is the answer to the law that indicts. The gospel is to be proclaimed so completely that every accusation of the law is answered. Jesus is the one who has taken on your lawlessness. Colossians 2:13–15 (NIV) — “13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Just as our mouths are brought to silence by the law, so by the gospel of Jesus are the accusations of the law silenced. For, “there is no condemnation of those who are in Christ Jesus.”
1. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 289.
2. Robert H. Stein, Mark, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 342.
3. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 293.