Mark 7:1-23: Honoring our Mothers

Sunday morning worship, May 13, 2018


We all have a way of interpreting the world through our own filters.  Events in our past can cast a long shadow on how we come to understand what is happening to us today. Today as we gather together on another Mothers’ Day we all bring our own relationships with our mothers with us.  If they were kind and loving, supportive, affirming, caring, and giving, we might want nothing more than to spend the entire day with our mothers thanking them for all of the sacrifices they’ve made to help us become the men and women we are today.  If they were rough, absent, abusive, or maybe just lazy and selfish, we might have other plans for today.


Did our parents stay married or did they divorce?  Did they love each other and overcome all the odds to provide the home we all desire at some level?  Were we an only child or did we have many siblings?  Did our parents have a lot of money or did we just somehow make-do? There may those among us who want to be mothers and fathers and today is bittersweet as we honor those who love us, but at the same time hurt because God doesn’t seem to be granting one of our deepest longings.  So as we gather together this morning, let me just say, we are not all experiencing the same emotions.


With all that in mind and because today’s Scriptural passage happened to be Mark 7 instead of Mark 6, I want to speak to what Jesus referred to as, “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. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (7:6-8). Jesus then went on to cite a specific example of how the oral tradition as interpreted by the present scribes and Pharisees allowed the nation’s people to dishonor their parents. 


In Jesus’ words, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that” (7:9-13).


Understanding the practice of Corban or Qorban is the key to understanding what Jesus is saying. William L Lane, in his commentary on Mark (NICNT, 1974, p. 251) explains the situation quite well:


“The basic purpose of the formula was to place a ban on something, reserving it for sacred use and withdrawing it from profane use by another person.  The vow creates a prohibition with regard to an object and fixes upon it the character of an offering dedicated to God.  This did not necessarily mean that the object declared qorban had actually to offered to God; it signified rather that it was withdrawn from its intended use and was no longer available for a particular individual “as if it were an offering.” In the hypothetical situation proposed by Jesus, if the son declared his property qorban to his parents, he neither promised it to the Temple nor prohibited its use to himself, but he legally excluded his parents from the right of benefit…The renunciation of all profitability extended beyond financial support to such practical kindness as assistance in the performance of religious duties or the provision of care in sickness.”


In simple terms the oral tradition as interpreted allowed a son to declare all of his financial assets and his relationships/time “Qorban.”  This non-binding oath cleared that son of any responsibility for his parents, period. By giving what he had to God’s kingdom in Qorban, with God’s kingdom’s purposes so loosely interpreted that this vow actually meant the son could do whatever he wanted with what was his, he therefore had no personal or financial obligations for the care of his parents in any manner.  It was simply a selfish way of absenting him from any guilt for doing whatever he wanted to do and no one would look down upon him for being selfish. It was a justification and a rationalization codified in a religious system.


The context of Jesus’ comments was His disciples failure to go through all the ceremonial washings required by the same oral tradition system before they ate. Consider the irony.  These scribes were more concerned about washing hands before dinner than caring for their parents. That’s why Jesus told them, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” (7:15).  The Law of Moses, in Lane’s words, “In their concern for the fulfillment of the letter of Scripture they forget that the Law was provided not for its own sake but to benefit men.  It is an expression of God’s covenant faithfulness as well as of his righteousness” (p.252). 


Our Bibles have been given to us to benefit us.  They tell us about the faithfulness of God and His righteousness.  That’s another way of saying what Jesus said in Lane’s words.  What happens to us in this lifetime doesn’t defile us. Rather it is our responses to what happens to us that both defiles and defines us.  Things can happen to us in this lifetime that can cause us to feel ashamed, dirty, or even less than others.  Other people’s words or actions can hurt us. But unless our own choices and responses to what happens to us are the cause of our shame, we should find in God’s grace the strength to stand tall during the gossip that surrounds us. 


A young lady can accept responsibility for being raped or abused by another and internalize what has happened to her to her own detriment.  Other people can say hurtful things such as her prior actions were the cause of the rape or the abuse.  Those lies should never be internalized.  Nothing we can ever do gives another person the right to violate us. But if after such an event, we in turn, treat others in a similar manner, then we defile ourselves.


Back to Mother’s Day.  No matter what kind of home life we experienced in our childhood—ranging from the best possible to the worst possible—no one should ever be ashamed of their past.  Any negative experiences we have internalized, whatever might have been done to us by our parents directly or tacitly by their failure to provide a safe place in which we were allowed to grow in a healthy manner, do not define who we are in any way.  While the world may put labels on us, God only sees us as His creation whom He loves dearly and gave His Son to die sacrificially for.  All of us can be thankful for the gift of life given us by our mothers.  Most of us should be able to go far beyond that statement in the our praise and thankfulness for all our mothers have given us. According to Genesis 3, all of us were birthed in our mother’s pain, a pain she endured to give us life, a life we can now choose to live to the glory of God eternally.


So back to Qorban and what Jesus’ command to honor our mothers and fathers. Jesus said everyone of us have a responsibility to “honor” our mothers and our fathers however well or poorly they provided for us. In the context of Mark 7 honoring means what comes out of us, our responses to our parents love or lack of love. And as Qorban speaks directly to how we honor our parents when they can’t take care of themselves any longer remember what Jesus condemned.


When our roles are reversed and we are left to care for our parents in their difficult days, Lane says three areas surface—financial support and kindness regarding religious opportunities and in their sickness.  Most of us will never be able to financially or physically support our parents if they need long-term medical care. The medical opportunities our world provides didn’t exist in Jesus’ days on earth. But all of us can be kind and loving regarding the other two. Let me make this statement with love and compassion and the understanding of watching a significant number of people slowly die during my years of ministry. If we live long enough, all of us will end up spending our final days in a care facility. We all need to accept that fact and deal with now, before it happens to us.  Parents need to remove the guilt for this decision from their children.  Children need to make this extremely difficult decision for their parents when the time comes, especially when doctors uniformly agree.


But kindness on the part of the children means we make sure the care our parents receive is appropriate and gracious.  Some of the least appreciated people in the world are the care givers in care facilities.  Most patients and children complain far more than they thank.  Thoughtful words and actions by the inpatient, if rational and possible, and especially by the children go a long way in determining the extra steps care givers take. Visit regularly and at different times of the day and night. Do the little things that mean so much.  Read the Bible and pray with your parents.  Take them copies of the messages they miss by not attending services and talk about God’s truths.  Keep them informed about their friends.  Watch TV with them, even if it’s in silence.  Talk to them.  Listen to them.  If possible, take them out for holidays.  Bring pictures.  Do all the little things you would want someone to do for you. In today’s world, that’s what I think it means to honor your aging parents. Love them with all your hearts and minds and souls and strengths.  Be there for them. 


And for the aging parents, appreciate all your children do for you.  Thank them.  Make good memories that will last long beyond your final days on earth.  Make them miss you. Ask for forgiveness where needed.  Discuss what has happened.  Fill their minds with warm fuzzies.  Make the time you spend together so wonderful they will want to come back again and again and again. All of us need to realize the importance of families.  We need to work together, through the good and the bad, to bring a little more of God’s kingdom to earth.  We need to say thanks more than once and in more than one way. We all define love differently, but we all know it when we experience it. Happy Mothers’ Day and may all your desires, whether parent or child, all come true to the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.