The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Mark 7:1-7

We all have food and drink preferences. All of us also have opinions about what food we should or shouldn’t eat and what beverages are appropriate or not appropriate. Food-shaming is a current reality in our culture. We judge one another for not holding our same preferences and opinions. We judge people who eat extremely unhealthy and we judge people who eat extremely healthy. There is shame on both sides because judgment comes from those of us stringent about our eating habits as well as those of us who are more free.

In today’s story, well-studied religious individuals are food-shaming Jesus and his followers. It appears Jesus is not upholding their food health standards. This seems strange. Especially when health standards were originally initiated by God for the sake of human flourishing. However, if we read this section carefully, this particular ceremonial washing is said to have been “a tradition of the elders.” This means the church people took the washing of hands and started to spiritualize it.

We do the same thing. Sometimes we make up rules to make us feel more spiritual. Some think, “I’m more spiritual because I care deeply about eating healthy to honor my body.” Others think, “I’m more spiritual because I haven’t made eating certain foods or restraining from certain drinks an idol.” Today, choose to eat something healthy and something unhealthy to remind yourselves that these opinions are not what makes us spiritual. Only by the grace of God are our hearts cleansed by Jesus from the inside out.

By Yvonne Biel