March 30, 2004
Mark 7

This is a very vexing chapter, if you're trying to figure the relationship between Jesus and the God of the Old Testament. It defies both those who make the one to be a seamless fulfillment of the other, and those who try to completely separate them.

In the first story some Pharisees criticize Jesus and his followers for eating without ritually washing first. Jesus replies:

‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.” But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban” (that is, an offering to God)— then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.’

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’

The weird thing about this is that Jesus quotes Mosaic law to undermine Mosaic law. "Honor thy father and mother" is credited as the Word of God, but the food taboos of Leviticus are treated as mere human tradition. But in the Old Testament as we have it, at least, all that law appears as a lump, delivered by God from Mt. Sinai. Jesus seems to be implying, though he does not actually say so, that the true Word ends at the end of Exodus.

And then in the next story, Jesus is approached by a Gentile woman who wants him to exorcise a demon from her daughter. Jesus resists: "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs." The woman gives the rather humiliating response that even dogs get the crumbs once in a while, so Jesus tells her her daughter is cured.

This is a strong indication that Jesus comes from the Jewish God: Jews are literally higher up the food chain than Gentiles. How this coexists with such little respect for what was already enshrined in the Jewish Torah remains mysterious.

This does, at least, help me understand one little mystery: why Christians have for so long elevated the Ten Commandments above all the other laws of Moses. As I've said before, the Noachide laws were actually the only ones that are supposed to apply to the whole world, and the early church seemed to follow this lead in Acts 15. But in this passage, and more conspicuously in Matthew 19:16-20 and elsewhere, Jesus quotes the Decalogue approvingly as God's word. For us "dogs" trying to figure out what the hell is going on here, it's a place to start.

Posted by Camassia at March 30, 2004 06:36 PM | TrackBack

Perhaps the story of the "dogs" eating the crumbs from under the table is an example of how the last shall be first and the first last. Here, "the children" (i.e. the Jews) must wait until the Gentile dogs have had their needs met, because of the humility (and faith, one assumes) shown by the distressed Gentile mother. She knocked and the door was opened to her.

Posted by: Rob on March 30, 2004 06:53 PM
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