Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.
Whenever the lectionary skips verses in a reading, my first question is, “What are we leaving out?” In this instance, we are omitting the reference to declaring whatever one would have gained from parents as dedicated to God and thereby getting oneself off the hook of caring for them (vv. 9-13), and Jesus’ scatological joke about what emerges making one unclean (we all use the latrine, therefore all are unclean).
According to Mack (Burton Mack, A Myth of Innocence), chapter 7:1-23Â is one of two carefully constructed rhetorical arguments in Mark’s Gospel (chapter 4, being the other). What makes Mark so frustrating is that the arguments are not designed to persuade, but rather to draw lines. “Well did Isaiah prophecy concerning this generation” is not likely to win any of “this generation” to Mark’s cause. It is instead constructed to show those inside just how right they are, and just how wrong are those on the outside. Do we need any more religion like that?
It is interesting to me that Mark has to define his community over against “the Pharisees, and the Scribes”, in a word, “the Jews.” Mark’s community of christians couldn’t have existed and come to definition without “the Jews.” In fact, Daniel Boyarin (Border Lines) shows that this kind of line drawing defined “the Jews,” and line drawing by “the Jews” defined “the christians.” Each needed the heretic other to achieve a sense of identity.
I wonder if we haven’t created “Islamic fundamentalists” in order to define ourselves as the truly righteous. “They” couldn’t exist without “us:” “we” couldn’t exist without “them.” What if we rejected Mark’s ploy of hardening the lines, of constructing arguments only designed to make those inside feel better about themselves, and engaged in dialog with “the other.”
Sandy Tolan’s book, The Lemon Tree shows what happens when a Jew and a Palestinian confront one another across the threshold of the house they both have shared. He gives us great insight into the perspective of each, and truly, neither could exist without the other. What if we recognized that? Paul works a lot harder than Mark does at trying to imagine what a new humanity might look like that made room for both Jew and Greek. No wonder Paul was so nuts: it’s hard work, and nobody wants you doing it.