“Isaiah has described you hypocrites well, as it was written, ‘These people honor Me with their lips but their hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain – their doctrines are merely human rules.’” (Mark 7:6-8)Jesus is responding to a question posed by some institutional teachers after they observed Jesus' students eating food without washing their hands first - a ceremonial purification ritual:
When they saw some of his disciples eat bread with unwashed or unclean hands, they found fault. Because the pharisees and the Jews maintained the traditions of the elders by not eating unless they washed their hands. And after the market they did not eat without washing. They also observed other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pots, copper kettles and dining tables. Then the pharisees and scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not maintain the traditions of the elders and eat food with unwashed hands?" (Mark 7:2-5)
Cleanliness versus customToday in secular society, we are taught to wash our hands in order to cleanse off the dirt and bacteria. Is this custom of cleanliness really any different than the Jewish custom of cleaning the hands in order to feel purified? Not really.
Why? Because both customs are centered around the need to feel clean.
Washing before making offeringsThe origin of this purification process among the ancient teachings of the Prophets was different. The custom of washing is described in Exodus, where basins were placed close to the altar in order to provide people to wash their hands and their offerings. This was done so they could present themselves and their offerings to the Supreme Being at the altar. It was a devotional practice.
In other words, it was an activity centered around the worship of the Supreme Being - and this is what made it purifying.
Yes, secondary to that, but unbeknownst to the worshipers, it also helped prevent disease. That is the element of God taking care of those who worship Him.
Over the centuries among sectarian Jews, this custom lost its devotional aspect and became one where the ceremony of washing became about personal purification - a ceremony of purifying oneself. Its purpose as part of offering to the Supreme Being was forgotten among sectarian institutional teachers and their followers.
This is what Jesus is responding to. The loss of devotional consciousness among these institutional teachers and their followers.
The purpose of offeringWhat is the purpose of making offerings? To help us re-develop our relationship with the Supreme Being. Just consider when a man offers flowers to a woman. Why does he offer her flowers? To communicate to the woman that he cares about her.
It is the same with devotional offerings to the Supreme Being. The original intention of offering to the Supreme Being has been lost as ecclesiastical sectarian institutions and their teachers have perverted offering and worship of the Supreme Being as being a focus of our own purification. The various ceremonies originally designed to allow us to focus upon the Supreme Being have been perverted to acts that focus on self-centered cleansing - being purified - and being saved.
Offering has been further secularized in modern times among sectarian institutions - perceived as simply thanking God. Today, this ritual of "giving thanks" before eating is construed as part of the process of becoming "saved."
Such a self-centered focus is, in fact, contrary to the teachings of Jesus.
Isaiah was channeling God's sentimentsMany have misconstrued Jesus' quote of Isaiah's writing in his statement above. They misconstrue the "Me" here as Jesus referring to himself. This is not the reality of the situation. Jesus was quoting Isaiah and Isaiah was writing on behalf of God.
Here is Isaiah's statement that Jesus is quoting:
The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught." (Isaiah 29:13)We can see from this statement that Isaiah was writing on behalf of God. Isaiah was God's representative and he was representing how God feels about those who make a show of worship in order to appear religious.
Self-centered ritualsJesus is thus criticizing those whose focus is upon following "human rules" to become saved or purified - and to make a show of religiosity to impress others. Either way, the intent of the ritual is self-centered. Ironically, we also find this very same issue among today's sectarian institutions that claim to follow Jesus. They teach the following of rituals using Jesus' crucifixion - for the purpose of becoming saved or purified - as well as impressing others with religiosity.
This completely misses Jesus' teachings and the purpose of worshiping the Supreme Being.
In Isaiah 29:13 above, to "come near" is translated from the Hebrew word נָגַשׁ (nagash) - which means "draw near." To "draw near" means to approach - to attempt to connect. So the Supreme Being is stating that while one might be saying prayers ("honor me with their lips") - the focus is not upon the Supreme Being. The focus is self-centered - thinking that if I say the prayers and do the motions correctly, then I will be purified or saved - or get something else in return.
This is why God is saying "their hearts are far from me." It is because the focus is upon ourselves. What we can get out of our prayers.
Consider it this way: What if you were wealthy and famous, and someone approached you, but you found they were most interested in taking advantage of your wealth and fame - rather than interested in you personally. Would you not feel insulted?
This actually happens all the time among famous and/or wealthy people, who become irritated at those who approach them with their own interests - they want to take advantage somehow: They are not interested in the person - they are only interested in getting some of that fame and/or wealth.
The Supreme Being is in a similar situation because He is the most wealthy and the most famous person. Is our approach to God simply to get some of that for ourselves? Or are we interested in Him personally? In other words, do we want to have a relationship with God, or do we just want to take advantage of His ability to provide wealth, fame, power, purification and so on?
Love versus businessWorshiping God to get something in return is not love. It is not even an attempt at love. This is seeing the worship of the Supreme Being as some sort of business exchange: If I do these prayers or do this ceremony, then I will get a reward.
While the original edicts to wash hands before offering, and then offering in itself - are facilities for us to focus our hearts upon the Supreme Being and re-develop our innate loving relationship with Him - these facilities have been perverted by sectarian teachers who themselves are teaching in exchange for salaries.
In other words, this concept of a business exchange - worshiping or serving Jesus or God in order to get something in return - to become saved or purified or even to become wealthy and successful - is being taught by the very institutions and their leaders who themselves have created a business out of what should be a facility to come to know, love and serve the Supreme Being.
And this after Jesus turned over tables in the temple because people were using the temple as a place of business.
This is why Jesus also said:
"And when you pray, do not do what the hypocrites do, for they like to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so they may be seen by others. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your closet and shut the door, and pray to your LORD who is in secret; and your LORD who sees what is done secretly shall reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use tedious repetition as the pagans do, for they assume they will be heard due to their many words. Don’t be like them, for your LORD knows what things you need before you ask Him. Therefore, you can pray in this way: “Our spiritual LORD, Holy is Your Name. Show us Your sanctuary. May Your will be done on earth as it is in the spiritual realm." (Matt. 6:5-10)So we see that not only is Jesus teaching that our prayers should not be focused upon impressing others with our religiosity or getting what we want, Jesus is teaching that our prayers should be focused upon the Supreme Being - glorifying the Supreme Being, doing God's will and wanting to please Him.
Just see how this is clarified:
" “Our spiritual LORD, Holy is Your Name." - this is glorifying the Supreme Being. Praising God. When a person loves someone, they naturally want to praise them.
"Show us Your sanctuary. May Your will be done on earth as it is in the spiritual realm." - this is asking to serve the Supreme Being - to please Him with our lives. "Your will be done" means wanting to do God's will instead of our own will.
Jesus stated that this is what his life was all about:
"For I have descended from the spiritual realm not to please myself but to please Him who sent me." (John 6:38)
"By myself I can do nothing; As I hear, I make choices, and my choices are just because I do not seek to please myself but to please Him who sent me." (John 5:30)These statements and others indicate that Jesus himself was focused upon serving the Supreme Being. He was loving the Supreme Being and wanting to do what the Supreme Being wanted him to do.
And this is what Jesus was teaching as well. He was not teaching that all we have to do is accept that Jesus died for our sins and we are saved. He was teaching us to focus our lives upon the Supreme Being and come to know Him, love Him and serve Him - and forget about being saved or purified.
This is why Jesus' - as well as Moses' - first and foremost instruction was:
“The most important of all the instructions is, ‘Hear O Israel – the LORD our God is our only Lord – and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ – this is the most important instruction." (Mark 12:29-30)