Gospel of Mark, Lent

Spiritual Hygiene (Mark 7)

While we have a second bathroom in the basement of the Manse, the primary bathroom on the main floor is the one we all use for everyday purposes, and that means a lot of negotiation about who uses it when, and which towels belong where, and so forth. When my older children were growing up, we also shared one bathroom, but I took a far more casual attitude toward towels and who touched them because we were all in good health. In recent years, living with an auto-immune disease, I am much more particular about what I touch and where it’s been. Where I used to casually brush off a passage like this one –

The Pharisees and some legal experts from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus. They saw some of his disciples eating food with unclean hands. (They were eating without first ritually purifying their hands through washing. The Pharisees and all the Jews don’t eat without first washing their hands carefully. This is a way of observing the rules handed down by the elders. Upon returning from the marketplace, they don’t eat without first immersing themselves. They observe many other rules that have been handed down, such as the washing of cups, jugs, pans, and sleeping mats.) So the Pharisees and legal experts asked Jesus, “Why are your disciples not living according to the rules handed down by the elders but instead eat food with ritually unclean hands?” (Mark 7:1-5, CEB – but go ahead and read the whole chapter)

with thoughts such as “Silly religious leaders! They just don’t get it!” – I now fuss about who touched what, and I have to stop and say, “Hmm. How can I talk about this without making it all about me and my specific needs for people to either wash their hands or not touch any of my stuff?”

Because the truth is, I have a lot of my own rules in this area, rules intended to preserve my health. My need for domestic hygiene hampers me now with this chapter, and it leads to some required updates of my spiritual hygiene.

Of course I don’t think food or dishes – OR PEOPLE – are unclean in a ritual, religious sense.

But oh my goodness, I don’t want the potato chips from the buffet table at the church luncheon if people are going to put their hands in the bowl. This is why God made tongs.

(So let’s not even mention the way Jesus uses his spit. Okay? Thanks.)

We have a dishwasher, for instance, that cleans things but sometimes doesn’t get everything off, and it’s very likely to leave our flatware water-spotted. Sometimes I see The Boy standing looking at a spoon, and then putting it back in the drawer. It’s not good enough for him, but it might be good enough for someone else? We are working on this, which includes my working on not flipping out when I see him do it, and instead explaining calmly that if it doesn’t look clean, it can be put in the sink instead of the drawer. This is a spiritual practice. It’s a hard one, because I feel like I should be able to control my own environment. But that need to take care of myself cannot be more important than the requirement to be humane with a child I love.

Jesus has a similar experience with the Syrophoenician woman. We know he is worn out, right, from having so many people following him everywhere? He is looking for a quiet moment to withdraw, but there she is, just like all the people wanting dinner, or the lame to walk, or the blind to see, or the lepers to have beautiful clear skin and be welcomed back into the community, and she is pressing on all his limits!

And he snaps. “Bitch, please. Do you think I came here for you?”

“Are you actually putting that spoon back in the drawer?”

Thank goodness we get another chance at our spiritual hygiene. Even Jesus.

O God, I give thanks for soap and water, even if even though they don’t matter for purposes of holiness. Help me to learn humility from Jesus and to make things right when I’m the one who needs to clean up my act. Amen. 

I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

1 thought on “Spiritual Hygiene (Mark 7)”

  1. I stand in awe at the way you so clearly can see and articulate the way scripture is relatable to our daily circumstance. Thank you.


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