Much More than a Ritual

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” – Mark 7:1-13

Grasshopper Sparrow #4 | Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR | November 2020

I recall my baptism vividly. That makes me different from my wife and children. They rely on the witness of their parents and any photos they may see from that special day. But baptized we all were. And what a blessing that confers! Forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, connecting with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and salvation (cf. Acts 2:38-39; Romans 6:3-5; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21).

The Pharisees had no such view of baptism. That’s the word (βαπτίζω) that Mark uses here to describe the ceremonial/religious practice of the Pharisees coming from the marketplace. They would “baptize” (wash) themselves, along with pots, and copper vessels, and dining couches. They were dedicated to a religious performance that was all about purity that was divorced from their hearts. It was a baptism outwardly, but not one that touched their hearts. 

Christian baptism – in the case of infants – is the beginning of a eternal relationship with God. God puts his name on the child and claims the child as his own. In the case of adults, the same blessings come, but the adult is able to express outwardly his desire to be baptized and to receive these blessings.

It’s also a one-time event. We don’t baptize ourselves again and again. And if we see someone coming into the worship center who stops and dips his finger in the water of the baptismal font – as many at St. John do – they are remembering their baptism. If someone does not do that, we do not accuse them of not being baptized, or not being worthy to worship God properly. 

When did you last remember your baptism? Did you call to mind the blessings God poured out on you? Even if you didn’t realize the fullness of those blessings at the time, they were still there. It is not too late to claim or reclaim them today. God made you his daughter. He made you his son. He put his name on you. You belong to him. Your sins are washed away. You are connected with Jesus’ death and resurrection. You are called to a new way of living. 

That’s much more than a ritual exercise. That’s much more than a mere ritual. That is a precious gift. Rejoice in those blessings and draw near to God with all your heart.

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