Jesus said to them: "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites!" Mark 7:6
Are you two-faced – a bit of a hypocrite, perhaps?
We instinctively react against such a suggestion, but as we continue our pilgrimage through Mark's Gospel and reach chapter seven there is no getting away from the challenge Jesus gives us.
And it is to us – first and foremost – because the people Jesus is addressing were deeply religious.
The situation Mark reports is pretty straightforward enough. Some Pharisees and other religious leaders start criticising the disciples of Christ for "eating with defiled hands – that is, without washing them" (v2). This was more than a simple act of cleanliness – it was a ritualistic cleansing which extended not only to their bodies but to "cups, pots and bronze kettles," among their "many other traditions" as Mark puts it (v4).
Jesus responds fairly bluntly. (Indeed, when and why did we start to assume that being Christ-like is the same as being "nice" and always involves "dialogue"? That's not what He models on either count here!). He declares: "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' You abandon the commandments of God and hold to human tradition!"
So what was it that made the people he was addressing hypocrites? And what might be the factors which we ourselves need to think about in this regard?
1. Do we pay lip service to God while our hearts are far from him? (v6)
It may be something as simple as simple as singing along with everyone else on a Sunday and then realising at the end we haven't had a clue about the words we have just sung. But I think Jesus has much more in mind here a public profession of faith which masks an ongoing coldness of heart to the Lord.
And it could be much more serious than that: perhaps we are someone who just goes through the motions of faith while our personal morality or attitude at work continues in ways which are far from what God wants. But it's not lip service Jesus wants – it's life service.
2. Are human traditions more important to us than God's Word? (v8 and again v13)
The Pharisees were certainly passionate about their faith: the problem was it had got hijacked by human tradition rather than the Word of God (which Jesus clearly equates with Scripture – declaring through verses 10 and 13 that what Moses said is what God himself said).
Tradition can mean, of course, a long-established way of doing things. And we can probably all think of examples of that which have crept into the churches we attend. But, equally, it can simply human ways of doing things – the patterns of the prevailing culture around, for example.
When we consider these two questions we will realise, almost certainly, that pretty much all of us are guilty: we are all hypocrites to one degree or another. I certainly am.
Jesus tells us another story (Luke 18 v9-14) about the two possible responses we might make. One is to be like the self-righteous religious person Jesus sketches there – a man in denial about himself who thanks God in prayer that he is not like everyone else, who he despises.
But the other person humbles himself and prays simply: "God, be merciful to me a sinner." It's a sentence which has evolved into the well-known "Jesus prayer": Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
The Rough Guide to Discipleship is a fortnightly devotional series. David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex.