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Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Mark 6. 1-8, 14, 15, 21-23 "Whose in? Whose out? "

Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing Together:

How would you react if someone of a another faith, nationality or ethnic background asked to join your discussion group?

A Window on the Text

For this exercise it is suggested that the whole of the passage be read (7.1-23)

At first sight, this passage is about hygiene: hand washing and food washing. All very apt to that society just as it is to us today (while our government tries to prevent the spread of 'swine flu').

However, it is about something much more serious, inclusion and exclusion, and the way in which groups of people create traditions to keep their purity or exclusivity. The story takes place at two levels: firstly Jesus uses it as a teaching exercise for his diverse group of followers and secondly, Mark retells it for the young Christian communities to whom he is writing.

So the issue here is about the status of traditions - hand washing etc. Are they part of the Torah, God's Law as given to Moses? Or are they man made, and if so, what is their purpose? Jesus is quite clear about the answer (v8), tradition is a convenient substitute or distraction and he cites the example of Corban. Jews could will their estates to the Temple treasury which had the effect of freezing the asset. But Corban could also be used as an excuse for not supporting elderly parents; the tradition of Corban over-riding the Law to honour ones parents.

Ched Myers in "Say to this Mountain" notes how these religious traditions could even be used to manipulate the market for vegetables (v4) by declaring some unclean, perhaps because the seed had been planted on the sabbath. Thus tradition became oppressive on Gentile producers.

In the Message, this passage is headed "The source of your pollution". Jesus makes it clear that the the source of pollution is not to be found on foods or on hands, but in hearts. It is misguided hearts with their self-centred agendas that establish 'traditions' and thereby create self-protecting boundaries; the sort of boundaries which hide greed by pretending "you're worth it".

This was a vital issue for Jesus at this point in his ministry when he was about to lead the disciples out of Jewish land and into Gentile territory. It was a vital issue for Mark, writing his Gospel to young groups of Christians who were wrestling with how to create communities which were open to and could embrace Jew and Gentile; slave and free; men, women and children; Roman, Greek, Arab and Egyptian.

It is no less vital today in our multi-cultural, multi ethnic society.

Responding as a community

Discuss the following questions in the context of your discussion group or your church.

  1. Name some of the practices or traditions which have evolved over time and which might now be seen as boundaries by outsiders?

  2. To what extent are are those traditions seen as 'law' to insiders?

  3. How might they be boundaries be removed?
Praying Together

Say the Lord's Prayer together and pause at "'Your will be done".

In the pause, name those traditions which have become 'law' and which, on reflection might be seen as 'our will' rather than God's will. Ask for God's forgiveness.

Then name the 'boundaries' which you think could be removed and pray for the will and the strength to do so.

Complete the Lord's Prayer.

Going Deeper

Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion

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