The Brokenness Within

Travis Rogers, Jr.

The Brokenness Within

4 mins
August 31, 2021

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 & Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I want to look at both the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading. Our Old Testament reading is from Deuteronomy. The word Deuteronomy is Greek for second law. When we look at the book of Deuteronomy, we find that it is a retelling of the law of Moses. 

A Brief History of Deuteronomy

The history of the Deuteronomy scroll is a fascinating one. We know that the first telling of the Mosaic tradition is found in the book of Exodus. You remember. The burning bush and God writing the 10 Commandments on tablets of stone. But then, when Moses brought the tablets down from the mount and he saw that the people of Israel had begun to worship a golden calf of their own making, he smashed the tablets, according to the Exodus account. We don't know exactly when and we don't know exactly where but that law was later transcribed onto scrolls.

Even later, those scrolls were worked into a complete narrative that became Leviticus and Numbers along with Genesis and Exodus. But somewhere along the way, again according to the tradition, those scrolls were lost and, in the absence of those scrolls, a new scroll was “found” when the high priest was renovating the temple under King Josiah, one of the good kings of Judah.

When that scroll was “discovered”, it was the basis for a reform of Hebrew worship under the direction of King Josiah. There were those who absolutely rejoiced at this “rediscovery” and restoration of the Law of Moses.

Misunderstanding Law

But here's our problem and it comes right at the beginning. We always talk about the Torah of the Hebrews as meaning law. It has been translated that way for centuries. The truth of the matter is, the word Torah should be better understood as teachings—that is to say, the teachings of the Lord and not the law of the Lord.

When we make something law it means that breaking that law or that statute or that commandment results in some sort of vengeful punishment. But teachings is a guidance and a direction. Even Paul in his letter to the Galatians refers to the Torah as a teacher.

It all comes down to this, the 10 Commandments, the teachings of the Lord, should be understood as not prescriptive but as descriptive. Here's what I mean: something that is prescriptive means this is the way we must behave, these are the rules we must follow, and the transgression is in breaking the rules. But when we speak of the teachings as descriptive, then we are saying that this is what a follower of God behaves like. It means that the 10 Commandments or the Torah, in general, describe what our lives should look like. 

Revealing Our Brokenness

This, then, is the important point. When we find in our lives that we have “broken” a commandment, the realization is not that we have broken a rule but that it has revealed something broken in us. If I fail to honor my mother and father, something is broken inside of me. If I greedily crave (covet) a possession that belongs to a neighbor, what in the world is wrong with me? Something is broken! If I fail to take advantage of and respect the rest (the Sabbath) that the Lord has provided me for me, my priorities are somehow broken.

And this is exactly what God is saying to the people of Israel about the teachings that God has handed down to them. God was saying how blessed these people were who had a God so near to them that they were given teachings through which to mark themselves and guard themselves and conduct themselves. And God counsels them to never forget the things that they have been taught about right behavior, good character, and ethical living.

And that's what the teachings of the Lord are all about, aren't they? They are solid councils and guidelines on how to live peaceably and ethically with those around us. And if we can't behave that way, then there is something broken inside of us.

Jesus and the Torah

This is exactly where Jesus picks up in the Gospel According to Mark, our text for today. The teachers of the Judean religion had turned the understanding of Torah from teachings into law. The Gospel According to Mark passage talks about the Pharisees who had come to see Jesus and they noticed that the disciples didn't follow the dietary purification rituals. 

Just as an interesting side-note, it becomes clear to us that the Gospel According to Mark was not written to Jews. How do we know that? Because in our passage, it reads, beginning in verse 3 that the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles. If the audience were Jews, they would not need that explanation because they would have been taught that from childhood.

But remember the descriptiveness of the Torah, the teachings of the Lord. The Pharisees, one of those schools or sects of the Judean religion, criticized Jesus and the disciples for not following the purification rituals as laid down in the teachings of the Hebrews. And here is where Jesus looks at the descriptiveness of the teachings. Jesus is telling them that they have misunderstood the teachings. They have made everything physical. They have become fundamentalists. They think that right religion is the exact following of the rules, exactly as they are written.

Ethics Over Religiosity

What Jesus tells them is that it is not the breaking of the rules that defile a person. It is not eating with unwashed hands that makes a person defiled. (Oh, it might make them sick but not defiled.) No, Jesus tells them, it is what comes out in our speech and in our actions, in our character and our ethics, that reveal the defilement, the brokenness, of each one of us. The way I act, the way I speak, shows my defilement in ways that simple rules violations could never reveal.

Jesus will tell us over and over again, in several different places in the Gospels, that how we speak to and treat others is what gets us in trouble. When we are defiled on the inside, when we are broken in our character, Jesus tells us that all these horrible things come out—lies, theft, murder, greed, slander, pride, and so much more.

The purpose of the teachings, the Torah, was as Paul said, a teacher to show us what right character looks like. Jesus tells us that, when we fail to learn the lessons of character, the defilement becomes obvious in everything we do.

May the Lord deliver us from those things which defile us, that brokenness within that is manifest and how we behave. And when we miss the mark (the actual meaning of sin), we know that we have a defender and a comforter who forgives us and puts us back on the right track.

This article was orginally reported by
Travis Rogers, Jr.

Travis is a contributor in religion and entertainment.