SO in Mark 7:1-23 Jesus quotes Isaiah and I, sadly, can’t even with the help of my study bible exactly figure out where or what is being quoted. My study bible suggests Isaiah 29:13, as well as Isa 1:10-20 and 58:1-14, and no doubt there are other places where Isaiah is saying, “Worship the Lord, obey the commandants with your heart, not by rote.” And Isaiah makes clear that the point is to help the needy, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, defend the widow and orphan, and so on and do so out of a heart filled with the love of God. The God of the Hebrew scripture and the God of the New Testament and Jesus are not different.
Isaiah before chapter 40 is seeing the danger and threat to Israel on the horizon. Isaiah in chapter 40 to the end is seeing a way to reconcile with God in the hope of the end of the exile, and having faith in that reconciliation with Jerusalem is reconciliation with God. In the silent gap between the end of chapter 39 and the start of chapter 40 is the Babylonian exile; the temple destroyed. So, and no doubt I am simplifying very big complexities, Isaiah is saying that the destruction and exile must have happened because God let it happen. God must have let it happen because the people did not worship God deep in their hearts. Something must now be happening to allow God to have mercy on the people.
To be fair to the Pharisees, they were deeply concerned, with the yoke of Roman oppression now on them, with how and why would God again allow bad things to happen? Clearly it is because rules were broken. I truly do not think they were (or people in this mental place today are) being insincere. They honestly see rule-breaking as a terrible moral danger that will cause (more) destruction.
But Jesus — Godself eh? — is saying nope, sorry not sorry, things are not like that. You can’t just say a prayer. You can’t just do a ritual. You can’t just wash your hands, or your cups, and be clean. You have to have a heart washed clean. The things that truly hurt you and each other and the world are the things that come out of the human heart.
Even if the disciples should have washed their hands — because please wash your hands! — the point is painfully true isn’t it? How do I get my heart straight, how do I keep these things that defile from breaking out? It would be so much easier to just have a ritual or a rule, yes?
As a storyteller, I’m having a great deal of trouble getting these verses from Isaiah by heart and I am thinking of “just” reading them — maybe making the point in doing so that Jesus is quoting a prophet thus making a virtue of necessity?