Lesson: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
1 Moses said: 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.
Deuteronomy is the fifth (and last) book of the Torah and is presented as Moses’ final speech to the Israelites just before they entered the Promised Land. “Deuteronomy” comes from Greek words that mean “Second Law” and is structured as a “restatement” of the laws found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Parts of it were revised as late as 450 BCE, but the bulk of the book is dated to the reign of King Josiah of Judea (640-609 BCE).
The authors of the Book of Deuteronomy were also the authors of the books of Joshua, Judges Samuel, and Kings (collectively called “the Deuteronomic History”). The Deuteronomists used the stories in these books to demonstrate that it was the failures of the Kings of Israel and the Kings of Judea to worship YHWH and obey God’s commands that led to the conquest of Northern Israel in 722 BCE by the Assyrians and the conquest of Judea by the Babylonians in 597 BCE. (The conquests were not seen as the result of the Assyrians’ and Babylonians’ greater wealth and more powerful armies.)
In today’s reading, Moses began a long (30 chapter) “restatement” of the Law and emphasized that obedience to the Law would make Israel a great nation and the envy of other nations (vv.6-8). Failure to obey the Law would lead to bad outcomes.
The Deuteronomists presented this restatement as the “final” version of the law — nothing can be added or taken away (4.2).
This idea of a “final law” conflicted with later interpretations of the Law that came to be known as the “Oral Torah.” These interpretations (which often led to regulations) were codified and written down after the First Century CE. The first codification was called the Mishnah (c. 200 CE). The Torah and the Mishnah itself were further interpreted, and these interpretations were compiled into the Gemara (c. 500 CE). Later interpretations of the Torah, the Mishnah and the Gamara were eventually combined into the Talmud (c. 700 CE).
The Gospels refer to the Oral Torah as “the tradition of the elders” (Matt. 15:2, Mark 7:4) as shown in today’s Gospel reading.
Epistle: James 1:17-27
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.
Although the authorship of this epistle is not known, it has traditionally been attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, who is presented in Acts of the Apostles as the leader of the Jesus Follower community in Jerusalem.
This James (sometimes called “James the Just”) is distinguished from “James the Great” (the apostle, brother of John, and son of Zebedee) and “James the Less” (apostle and son of Alphaeus).
The letter is seen by some scholars as the expansion of a sermon likely delivered by James prior to his martyrdom in 62 CE. The sermon was edited and expanded by someone skilled in Hellenistic rhetoric. It was addressed to Jewish Jesus Followers and emphasized the importance of good works. It mentions Jesus of Nazareth only twice in the letter.
This emphasis on works has been understood by some (including Luther) as being opposed to Paul’s position (particularly in Romans) that one is saved by Faith alone.
These positions are not opposed and can be reconciled by recognizing that salvation/wholeness (however defined and understood) is the byproduct of the combination of Faith that leads to good works and the Faithfulness in doing good works.
Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
1 When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 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 Then 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 Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is usually dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
Two major points of disagreement between the Jesus Follower Movement and Pharisaical Judaism (the other surviving sect in Judaism after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE) were the question of circumcision for male Gentiles who sought to become Jesus Followers and the observation of the Purity Codes (including laws relating to kosher food).
In today’s reading, the Pharisees and “some scribes” (v.1) from Jerusalem raised a question about Jesus’ disciples failing to wash their hands before eating, which they claimed was a violation of the “Oral Torah” – the traditions of the elders (v.3). (Most commentators raise serious doubt whether “all the Jews” (v.3) observed hand washing or ritual washing of cooking vessels in the First Century.)
The author of the Gospel paraphrased the verse from the LXX version of Isaiah 29:13 to make the point that externals were not as important as intention and the human heart (v.21).
In omitted verses (9-13), Jesus accused the Pharisees of making financial contributions to the Temple as excusing themselves for not providing for their parents. In other omitted verses (17-20), Mark said that Jesus declared all foods clean. This statement is not in the Gospels of Matthew or Luke, and Luke omits the encounter altogether.