In the seventh chapter of Mark’s gospel, a group of lawyers have gathered around Jesus. These Pharisees, legal scholars. and avid constitutionalists are starting to bat around the idea of changing the 14th amendment to the Torah. Do you know about the 14th amendment to the Torah? It’s the one that says, “no matter where your parents are from; be it Persia, Rome, Cyprus, Ephesus, Cappadocia, Egypt, or Guatemala City, if they make it across the borders of Israel and are born here, you’re part of God’s kingdom.” The lawyers gathered around Jesus, the legal scholars, those who understand the fine points and nuances of scripture do not agree with, like, appreciate, or enjoy Jesus’ open ended interpretation of the 14th amendment to the Torah. “It’s got to be harder to get into the kingdom of God,” they say. “Eternity can’t handle all self-righteous people who’ve gone in ahead of us!”
To the lawyers, legal scholars, and avid Torah constitutionalists a working knowledge of tradition mattered. The rules which governed religious and social practice formed the intricate web belief only they understood. To the newcomers, new arrivals, and new kids in town the kingdom of God was an ever expanding expression which seemed to include the whole world. For Jesus’ nitpicking observers, it was about washing your hands. It was also about mortal flawed people, deciding who God loves and who God hates.
The lawyers, legal scholars, and Torah constitutionalists observed Jesus’ disciples on many levels. They saw them heal the sick, preach, and how they remembered the fine points of religious and social etiquette. When you can’t condemn someone for their ability to heal and preach, you can call them nasty. Jesus’ disciples came from the rough and tumble world of Galilean fisherman. These utensil rules, while “old school” and rooted in interpretations of Biblical tradition, matted not at all to these guys. If they were going to eat, they were going to eat. Even if it meant eating with their hands in front of ultra-religious people who were certain to deem their actions sinful.
Jesus calls the lawyers, legal scholars, and Torah constitutionalist out on the dusty carpet. He says, “You ignore God’s commandments while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.”
In other words, you are creating religious rules (attributing them to God) which make it harder for people to worship and serve God in authentic, loving ways. You’re changing rules as you go along, to fit the needs of your unique and narrowly defined understanding of God. If the Kingdom of God is too big, let’s make it narrow again; that’s what man made rules like these suggest.
The Pharisee’s argument is simple: if you’re not washing your hands correctly, according to our standards, dipping your dishes in the water, or born in the right place at the right time, you do not have a claim to God’s love or a place in the kingdom of God. This is what Jesus means when he says to the Pharisees, “You ignore God’s commandments while holding on to rules created by human hands handed down to you.” When we honor God’s commandments, widows, orphans, and immigrants go first. When we honor God, common sense, love, and compassion should override the desire to be cold hearted, minutiae obsessed bigots.
When we remember the words of Ezekiel 47:22, “You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel,” we hear a call to honor God’s commandments. Each time you hear someone use the word “anchor baby”, read the words of the Ezekiel. When we honor God’s most basic commandments, there are no border crossings or national boundaries in the Kingdom of God.