Criminology and Theology
The New Testament scripture lesson that was read and preached a week ago in many church pulpits (Mark 7:1-8ff.) had to do with the religious leaders’ questioning and criticizing Jesus and his disciples for not washing their hands before eating. Jesus responded by revealing the hypocrisy of their accusation. They were more concerned about ceremonial hand-washing according to the Old Testament laws than they were about “clean minds and hearts.” Jesus said what truly “defiles” people is not unwashed hands, but “unclean” minds and hearts! In addition to the sins of theft and murder, he included the sins of “deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, insults, and arrogance” (Mk. 7:21-CEB).
Jesus’ message was directed to religious leaders and all Christians to examine ourselves as to the true meaning and purpose of our practices. His denunciation of the religious leaders’ accusative question (“why don’t they wash their hands?”) seems strange to us today; but it should urge us to question some of our beliefs and practices.
The gospel story brought to mind the sharp criticism leveled against religious people today by comedian Bill Maher in the movie “Religulous.” Maher criticizes religion as “ridiculous” and highlights what he views as some of the strange beliefs and practices of persons who are fundamentalist Christians, Jews, and Moslems. Despite my discomfort with Maher’s sharp criticism of people of faith, I see a parallel with the criticism of Jesus toward the religious leaders of his day.
Do our beliefs and practices have meaning? Are they clearly founded on major points and recurring themes in Scripture? I’m not suggesting that we are answerable to Bill Maher; but that we examine our beliefs and practices to assure that they reflect what Jesus taught. He taught that love is the “greatest commandment.” Jesus exemplified that by showing love to many folks who in his day were not very “lovable”!
Beliefs and practices that divide rather than unite people; that exclude rather than include; that ignore the oppressed and marginalized rather than overcome the cultural and social conditions that foster social problems—these are the focus of the life and teaching of Jesus. This is “faith with meaning.” It’s not complicated.