House M.D. is a TV show about an irascible genius named House who solves medical mysteries others ignore or can't solve. People turn to him usually as a last resort. The same can be said for Jesus, sadly.
House often defends others against the medical establishment. He takes their side when the powers that be won't. In our text Jesus defends His disciples against the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem. They charged Jesus' disciples with not living according to the traditions of the elders because they ate their food with ceremonially unclean hands.
Jesus pulled no punches in His defense. He called the Jewish leadership "hypocrites." He said they were teaching their man-made rules as if they were laws of God. Anyone who puts the authority of God behind the words of men is doing that. Roman Catholicism does that when they forbid their priests or nuns to marry. The Pentecostal does that when he commands women must have long hair. The Baptist does that when he says God forbids the drinking of alcohol. The Church of Christ does that when it says thou shalt have no musical instruments in church.
What Jesus is really defending them against is a doable Law. Everything I just mentioned above is doable by fallen, sinful men, and does it feel good. I can do something to please God. I can make progress on my journey to heaven. Contrast this with Paul: "There is none righteous no not one." "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." What law, command, demand, good need is someone capable of if Jesus' words are true that out of men's hearts come present tense not will come, not might come, but certainly come even now: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, envy?
Jesus is defending His disciples against the Jewish establishment that had let go of the commands of God and were holding on to the traditions of men. That is so evil, not because the traditions of men are harder than the commands of God. No, they're easier; they're doable. What makes it so evil to supplant God's law with man's is because man's laws don't correctly diagnose the problem. Man's laws lead to the covering up of real sins, and so healing a wound on the outside only. Jesus said of the Pharisees that they looked great on the outside as spotless as a whitewashed tombstone, but inwardly they were full of dead bones. House went off on people who were satisfied with superficial healing so does Jesus.
Jesus does something in this text that He doesn't usually do. He calls the crowd to Him. These aren't disciples. These are those He wanted to be disciples. Jesus calls them to the side to do what House does. In House you will find people peripheral to the drama just watching it unfold. House, consistent with his intense, irreverent personality calls them to himself to drive home a point he thinks they need to know.
The simple point Jesus drives home is that the church of that day had the diagnosis of the problem wrong. It's worse than the crowd is being led to believe. See how empathic Jesus is: "Listen to Me everyone and understand this." Wow if a doctor pulled me aside in a hospital and said that to me, I think I would really pay attention. How much more so when God in flesh and blood pulls you aside?
Jesus tells them, us, our sin and guilt doesn't come from outside of us. The basis of all manmade religion is that it does. Read Colossians. The don't touch, don't handle, don't taste crowd of manmade religion was leading them astray. You could avoid sin by avoiding certain outward things. People in our day do the same thing when they attach godliness, being closer to God, or being better than others with not eating meat, not smoking tobacco, not drinking alcohol, not dancing, not marrying.
Would that this were true! Would that I could avoid sin, be closer to God, be more certain of going to heaven just by not eating, drink, smoking, or touching certain things. I would do that in heartbeat, wouldn't you? You can go to heaven as long as you never eat beef again. Done. If you stop smoking today heaven is yours tomorrow. Done. That's even better than Pope John Paul II offered for the millennial jubilee. The best he could do for quitting smoking was some time off from purgatory or less punishment on earth (Urging Millennial Penitence, Pope Is Offering Indulgences http://www.nytimes.com/1998/11/28/).
But sin, guilt doesn't come from outside of you. It's not because you're surrounded with jerks that you have a bad temper. It's not because you were raised in an unloving home that you are unloving. It's not because your parents gave you bad genes that you are beset with sins. Outward situations don't put bad things in you; they press out of you the bad things already in there. It's not what goes into a man that defiles, profanes, makes guilty a man before God but what comes out of him.
Hear House saying the following as he is tries to convince a crowd that the treatment they think will help a patient won't. Hear this list of sins evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, on and on and on the list goes. All of these things are in you, in me. On and on this list of sin, of decay, of defilement goes till the doctors open you up and find you're filled with cancer. How we hate stories like that. And they're not stories. We all have family members, know someone, or know someone with a family member who went in for an operation that was suppose to fix everything and they opened him up and found he was full of cancer. So they sewed him back up and sent him home. It's okay to shudder a little at this point.
House has gotten his point home. The medicine being prescribed is not adequate for treating the ailment of the disciples or the crowd. In the show, House always has the answer, the right treatment for the real disease. In our text, Jesus does not. All you get here is the part where House goes off on the establishment that has been proscribing the wrong treatment and on the bystanders who have been content with it. The answer is not here.
Well, yes it is, but not in the way you think. If you style this in the way of House M.D. then Jesus has the answer. These are the churches that point you to following certain steps, having this sort of devotional life, living a Jesus-centered life, reading the Bible prayerfully. Some of your ears perked up. This is wonderful. This is exactly what I need. There is a path clearly marked out to take me back to Jesus. No, this is the doable law. This is Jesus has an answer for you to do, not Jesus is the answer.
Yes, Jesus Himself is the answer to the defilement you are born with, to the evil that streams forth from your heart 24/7. Jesus, His Person and Work. Who Jesus is and what Jesus did is the answer to all the evils coming forth from you and making you guilty, lost, sinful.
The Man Jesus is also true God. Being born of a woman only, the Virgin Mary, He did not have original sin. He was not born with all that sin, guilt, decay, and death that is within us. There was no beachhead in Him for sin, death, or the devil like there is in you. All that cancer, all that decay, all that disease Jesus says is within mankind was not in Him.
Yet, Jesus was born under the very same laws you and I were. He was born obligated to keep the Laws of God. He wasn't born to keep man-made laws and this was always a flashpoint between Jesus and the Jewish church. They made up other laws to keep from violating God's laws. Most of their Sabbath laws and the laws about ceremonial washing before dinner we're those kinds of laws. Jesus didn't care about those laws and broke them with impunity because when you attach God's authority to man's laws you do two things: You produce a doable law that makes some people feel guilty when they shouldn't and you hide real sin so that those who should feel guilty don't.
But the Laws God actually gave, the Man Jesus kept. That stream of evil thoughts we could dip into anytime we want, didn't flow through Jesus' heart. He wasn't guilty of sexual immorality, adultery, or lewdness not in deed, word, or thought. Likewise for murder, malice, envy, and slander. The same goes for theft, greed, deceit, and folly. Go over His life with a fine tooth comb which God and man did and you won't find one sin, one misstep, one guilt.
Of course, now we're to the crazy part. House often saves the day with the correct diagnosis, and he just as often saves it by doing the right procedure, but he never saves anyone by suffering, sighing, bleeding, and dying. House never saves anyone by bearing their sicknesses, sorrows, sins, and punishments. House never saves anyone by having the cup of God's wrath handed to him and drinking it. House not only never goes to the cross for anyone; he never goes into the miseries of hell or into the fearful grave for them either. Jesus did all three. Jesus did it for you, for me, for everyone you know, and everyone you don't know.
I have only heard one time the call "Is there a doctor in the house?" and I would imagine the person who needed it was relieved when a doctor stepped forward. Is there a Savior in this house? The hymns proclaim there is. The liturgy proclaims there is. The Bible readings proclaim there is. The sermon proclaims there is. The Sacrament proclaims there is.
Are there sinners in the house? Are there sinners who can't do anything about their sin and guilt? Are there sinners who feel like the little Dutch boy trying to stem all the evil flowing from inside them with no more than a finger? Are their sinners who have tried their best and know they have come up lacking? This Savior is for you. Do you think He calls the broken and busted for nothing? Do you think He wasn't serious when He said He came for sinners not the righteous, the sick not the healthy?
Notice how House is always drawn to the sick and diseased and the worse they are the more he's drawn. That's true to life for a good doctor. Do you think it's less so for the Savior of sinners? No, Paul says where sins abound grace does much more. Thanks be to God; that means grace is really abundant for me. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20150906); Mark 7:1-8, 14-14, 21-23