So as I read through this passage this morning — yes — I posted the passage without reading it first — and what most strongly niggled me was the word “common”. the translations I’m familiar with all say “unclean”.
Common. And I take the opposite of common in this sense to be elite. This is all about boundary markers, who’s in and who’s out. And Judaism does like its boundary markers:
Deuteronomy 19:14 You must not displace your neighbour’s boundary mark, positioned by men of old in the heritage soon to be yours, in the country which Yahweh your God is about to give you.
Mind you — so does Quakerism. That’s in part what the funny hats and thee and thou and the give-peace-a-chance-bumper-stickers are about.
Mark tells us: The Pharisees, and indeed all the Jews, will never eat unless they have washed their hands in a particular way, following a traditional rule. And they will not eat anything bought in the market until they have first performed their “sprinkling”. And there are many other things which they consider important, concerned with the washing of cups, jugs and basins.
Now I would have bought this one if he just said Pharisees. Thanks to 2000 years of Christian appropriation of western history the Pharisees are pretty much the stuck up prigs of the cosmos to pretty much everyone except maybe the Hasidim. But Mark went one step further and said indeed all the Jews. This tells me a lot.
Mark no longer thinks of himself and his community as being the Jews. The Jews are the other guys. Here it is only 30 years later and Mark is pointing to Jews and saying — not us. Somebody moved the boundary markers.
All the Jews wash their hands before meals to keep from being “common” (unclean). But his (Jesus’)disciples ate their meals with “common” hands. But Jesus’ disciples are Jews. If all the Jews did this and Jesus’ disciples did not, then we have two choices. First, all the Jews didn’t. there’s a class distinction here. Maybe commoners didn’t except on special occasions. I can believe this. I know a Muslim who drinks alcohol except during Ramadan. Second possibility: Jesus taught his disciples to ignore the rule.
If Jesus taught his disciple to ignore a long standing ritual purity law then why do they go to him afterwards and ask for an explanation? Should they not already know the answer to their question?
What I’m seeing here is a relaxation of the boundary rules attributed to Jesus. But in the act of witnessing to it my story teller is actually placing the those boundary markers in a new place rather than removing them altogether. Sort of like pointing the finger and laughing at another person’s belief system to show how open-minded you are. I’ve learned God’s humour tends towards the ironic — mostly as we humans make such good targets of satire.
So what do I do with this? Where are the boundary markers I set? And just how proudly do I maintain them?
I have one foot in two different faith communities. The Protestant church I attend has its boundary markers — though I don’t think anyone really agrees where they belong. And the Quakers I know and love think they don’t have any — and paradoxically — that is their most rigid one. Like I said, God’s humour tends towards the ironic — mostly as we humans make such good targets of satire.