In his Gospel, Mark emphasizes what Jesus did rather than what he taught.

The other gospel writers say far more about the content of Jesus’ teachings. Matthew records the Sermon on the Mount. Not Mark. Luke reports the Sermon on the Plain. Not Mark. John chronicles the teachings of Jesus delivered privately and publicly, at the Temple and in the wilderness—vast swathes of Jesus thoughts and principles. But not Mark.

Mark tends to focus on Jesus’s actions rather than his words. Mark tells us stories about where Jesus went and who he met and what he did. Along the way, he drops in a few of Jesus’ parables and comments and sayings. But Mark’s story is always moving and active … it rarely stands still long enough to record the substance of a specific speech.

Don’t misunderstand: Mark wants us to know that Jesus taught. He frequently portrays Jesus preaching to a crowd or teaching in a house. He depicts Jesus as a good teacher—people are amazed by Jesus’ teaching in Mark.

It’s just that Mark doesn’t dwell on what Jesus taught … the content of his teaching … the ideas he advocated.

The seventh chapter of Mark is, in fact, the first extended section of teaching in this Gospel.

True, Mark took most of his fourth chapter to record some parables Jesus taught the crowds: the Sower story, the Lamp on its Stand, the Growing Seed, and the Mustard Seed. But these parables were very focused on missionary themes and served as explanations for Jesus’ work and the ministry he recruited the disciples to perform.

Not until chapter seven (almost half-way through Mark) are we given a lengthy summary of the sorts of ideas that brought Jesus into sharp contention with the Pharisees, the notions that made his teaching so controversial. Actually, this chapter is the only extended section of teaching from the ministry of Jesus recorded by Mark—until Jesus gets to Jerusalem and is facing the cross.

How interesting, then, that this section (Mark 7:1-23) should focus on tradition.

In Mark 7, once again, Jesus and the Pharisees are butting heads. Only this time, Mark doesn’t just tell us they are in conflict—he shows us. He gives us twenty-three verses of detail about what they are arguing over. It begins with the Pharisees watching Jesus and his disciples and noticing that they are not washing their hands. When they complain to Jesus about this lapse, he tears into them. And it is not a pretty sight.

He calls them “hypocrites.” He accuses them of honoring God in surface matters but ignoring God’s will in matters of substance. He charges them with using their traditions as a means of evading God’s commands. He gives them a prime example of how they do this—the Corban tradition. And then he returns to the matter of hand-washing and shows them how badly their tradition misses the mark.

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