Thursday, February 19, 2009

With the fist? (Mark 7)

Our Lord's rivals for the public ear, the Pharisees, were masters at the art of "differential righteousness," to use Thomas Sowell's colorful phrase.[1] They cherished a number of traditions that served to distinguish them from people whose real lives kept them too busy to dot every t and cross every i. (this may not be a good example, since the Turkish alphabet includes ı, the "undotted i.") Mark's gospel uses a word found nowhere else in the New Testament to describe their handwashing technique: πυγμῇ . There have been a number of suggested translations of this adjective: did the Pharisees wash "oft?" "To the elbow?" "With the fist?"

Well, back to the story. As Bruce Barton put it in his book The Man Nobody Knows, Jesus was "the most sought-after dinner guest in Jerusalem." His gift of gab, his ability to tell stories and his relish for lively debate, made for entertaining evenings. Even when the target of his repartee
was the host.

In this case, Jesus and his crew had scandalized the sophisticated crowd by failing to properly perform the ritual ablutions. Let's look at the conversation:
Mar 7:5 Ferisiler ve din bilginleri İsa'ya, "Öğrencilerin neden atalarımızın töresine uymuyorlar, niçin murdar ellerle yemek yiyorlar?" diye sordular.
Mar 7:6 İsa onları şöyle yanıtladı: "Yeşaya'nın siz ikiyüzlülerle ilgili peygamberlik sözü ne kadar yerindedir! Yazmış olduğu gibi, 'Bu halk, dudaklarıyla beni sayar, Ama yürekleri benden uzak.
Mar 7:7 Bana boşuna taparlar. Çünkü öğrettikleri, sadece insan buyruklarıdır.'
Mar 7:8 Siz Tanrı buyruğunu bir yana bırakmış, insan töresine uyuyorsunuz."
Mar 7:9 İsa onlara ayrıca şunu söyledi: "Kendi törenizi sürdürmek için Tanrı buyruğunu bir kenara itmeyi ne de güzel beceriyorsunuz!
Mar 7:10 Musa, 'Annene babana saygı göstereceksin' ve, 'Annesine ya da babasına söven kesinlikle öldürülecektir' diye buyurmuştu.
Mar 7:11 Ama siz, 'Eğer bir adam annesine ya da babasına, benden alacağın bütün yardım kurbandır, yani Tanrı'ya adanmıştır derse, artık annesi ya da babası için bir şey yapmasına izin yok' diyorsunuz.
And, a few words:
  • at -- horse. ata -- ancestor. atalar -- ancestors. atalarımız -- our ancestors. atalarımızın -- of our ancestors.
  • Bana boşuna taparlar. -- to me / empty / their worship (is)
To maintain their traditions, the Pharisees were quite willing to ignore God's law. "Mom, Dad, sorry to see you destitute, but I gave all I had to the church." In America, "fundamentalists" have acquired a reputation for a vain self-righteousness predicated on maintaining a handful of taboos.

Still, the fact that these Pharisees continued invited Jesus over for dinner indicates that real righteousness, a joyous delight in serving God and neighbor, is a winsome trait.


[1] In his book The Vision of the Anointed, Sowell demonstrates by one example after another that the "chattering classes" currently in ascendency in the United States, the politicians, professors, and press, are driven to distinguish themselves from the mass of humanity by championing people and things that normal people find repellant.

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