“Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.” (Mark 7:1-2)
This Sunday we listen in on a debate of sorts between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day, who want to chastise him for failing to keep up with customs. He quotes Hebrew scripture when he cites the prophets’ words, “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6). The epistle of James echoes a similar sentiment when the author writes, “religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).
We, who belong to a church that has adopted “God’s Work. Our Hands.” as its motto, are called to ask just how clean (or dirty) our hands are. If we are going to be about God’s work, then our hands aren’t likely to stay clean for long. They will be pressed into duty serving sandwiches to people who haven’t bathed in weeks; they will rest on the brows of the sick and the dying; they will be reaching across the aisle to people with whom we can barely find common ground. In God’s household it is the world’s system of rank, condescension and division that stains the soul; care for those most vulnerable and overlooked is counted as purity. We who proclaim along with Peter that in Jesus we have seen the Holy One of God (John 6:69) are called to follow his example and get our hands dirty.