We were in the middle of a local Minnesotan state fair surrounded by fried food everywhere: fried pickles, fried cheese, fried ice cream, fried cookie, fried bananas. You could feel the fried food seeping into your pores every time you breathed in. So in a vain attempt to escape the grease filling the air we tried out some of the attractions. Shi went on all of the spinny things, I watched, you wouldn’t like me on those things. Then we went to the caricature artist. She had different sketch drawings of the people she had drawn hung all over the tent and I tried it out for a laugh and got my picture done. After a few minutes when she held it up I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. In the drawing my hair was big, I mean, into the sky kind of big, my glasses were huge, my nose was too big, my head was tiny, my chest was big and my waist was small (not sure where they got that one from!). It was one of those if you close one eye, squint and stand on your toes you could guess it was a picture of me, sort of. The caricature had all of the basic elements of who I was they were just grossly drawn out of proportion from what they should have been. Needless to say that is the last caricature drawing I have ever had!
We can understand today’s reading both from Mark 7:1-13 and from Ephesians 5:22-33 like caricature drawings comparing the exaggerated proportions of what we make people and ideas out to be covering up the real substance and depth that we are called too.
The reading from the Gospel of Mark 7:1-13 paints this picture of the Pharisees, one of the Jewish religious and political leadership groups during that time. They were complaining about the disciples not following the laws of ritual purity when eating food; whole traditions and rituals that needed to be followed that Mark lists for us who aren’t familiar with it including washing in a certain way of vessels, cups, pots and even dining couches. This wasn’t simply about washing your hands before you eat, but a whole idea of what it meant for them to be religious, picture in your mind a caricature of a religious person maybe including a big, pontifical looking hat, the largest Bible you have ever seen, multiple layers of flowing robes all with elaborate and detailed vessels and ceremonies. A caricature drawing that pulls all of the religious ideas out of context and grossly draws them out of proportion missing the substance and depth of what it really means to be a faithful follower of God. Jesus calls them on this caricature of the religious life saying, you have and do all of these out of proportions things just for show but your missing out on what the true substance of faith is: living out the Words of God, loving God and loving others as yourself. So much so that you even tell your parents in their old age you will not help them because all you have is given to the temple, ignoring the really, really big Bible in your hands that commands you to honor your Father and Mother!
Take this same idea of caricature and start working through the passage in Ephesians 5 on Wives and Husbands. I just know when we read these passages, especially the part, wives submit to your husbands; we cringe on the inside or stoically hold our expressions on the outside until we get to passages like John 3:16 that seem less offensive. But one of the big reasons that this passage comes off so wrong to us is that we are picturing a caricature of men and women and not the Christian substance the of manhood and womanhood living in a Christ-like manner the Bible is holding up.
First take a look at the passage from Ephesians 5. Open your Bibles for a minute and actually measure the section where Pastor Paul is talking to Christian women and compared it physically to the section where he is talking to Christian men. Which one is bigger? The section talking to men, by far, because the men Paul was addressing were living out some of the most out of proportion caricatures we can imagine. Just a few thoughts before in Ephesians 4 Paul gives us a glimpse of what these caricatures of manly men looked like: rage, anger, brawling and fist-fighting, rude, corrupt, filthy language, stealing, lying, treating women like trash, just to name a few of the descriptions. They had become out of proportion drawings of the worst of what men can be but not only were these behaviors accepted they were applauded! In many way, not very different from some of the worst depictions of manhood that we see today that draw young men especially, but all of us guys, to ways of living that is oversized and out of proportion.
The Christian women that Paul was addressing had their own caricatures on being a woman they were dealing with as well, like being hyper-sexualized on one hand and then being beat down for that same sexuality. Being both an object of desire and repulsion, considered unclean during their periods and any other similar times, so unclean that they would be shunned by Jewish men and their husbands would refuse to touch or support them, but… at the same time they had better be ready to bear for the men a quiver full of children! Some of the worst contradictory caricatures that in so many ways women across the world suffer from today.
But is that all that we are and all that we are called to live for, oversized, out of proportioned caricatures of men and women, of human beings that have no real basis in reality and only produce pain and suffering? In this passage from Ephesians Paul is answering this question, confronting the worst caricatures that are forced down our throats by a cultural that doesn’t care but only wants to sell you stuff, by giving us a model of living for both men and women alike to reach towards in faith. The model of love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ and it starts with these words, “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.”
What does it mean to be a Christian man, look at Jesus. There was nothing that he didn’t do to rescue his beloved. He gave up his body for the cross, He gave up his rights to those that insulted him, He gave up his soul in death, He went through hell itself for his beloved. You want to know what it means to be Christian man, look at the nail marks through Jesus’ hands and feet drove through to save the ones He loved, that is what it looks like to be a man.
What does it mean to be a Christian women, look at Jesus. That word “submit” that messes us up, probably isn’t the best translation of that Greek word, it is more of the feel of giving of yourself, giving all that you have. Jesus gave all that He had to rescue those He loved and He loves all of us. He gave up heaven itself, He walked away from the glory, He emptied himself of all power except the power to save, He gave it all away for you and me. You want to know what it means to be a Christian woman, look at the nail marks through Jesus’ hands and feet drove through to save the ones He loved, that is what it looks like to be a woman.
Holding Jesus up as the ultimate example of what it means to be a Christian man or woman changes our perspective on how we see all of the caricatures of men and women in the world that try so hard to impress us. When were confronted by them and those pictures try to tear us down and say we’re not really a man, not really a woman, we can say with full confidence if I don’t see the nail marks I’m not listening to a word your saying.
As we are brought together, both Christian women and men into the body of Christ called the Church, we ask ourselves the same question, what does it mean to be the church. Because, if were not careful, any and all churches have and can become caricatures, drawn grossly out of proportion of what they are called to look and act like. Think all of symbols that are used in a traditional church or liturgical worship service: spires that point us to heaven, big Bibles that show us God’s Word to the robes the pastor wears: black to remind us of our need for repentance and white to remind us of how we are made clean and forgiven in Jesus. Or think of more attractional churches located on store-fronts to be accessible, guitars to be relevant and pastors who wear jeans and t-shirts to remind the congregation that they are everyday people as well. Big church, small church and everything in between. All of these things and more can become caricatures of what we really are, drawn grossly out of proportion with too tall steeples and too loud guitars missing out on the substance and depth of the Christian church on Earth.
What does it mean to be the church, look for the nail marks of Jesus. Look for the body and blood shed for you, look for the words of forgiveness won for you, look how Jesus himself sacrificed all to rescue you and bring you to Him. What does it mean to be the church, look for the nail marks in how we treat each other, the love we show, the sacrifices we make. Look for the nail marks in how we love our community, our neighbors, our strangers, our enemies and our friends.
Out of all of the competing out of proportion caricatures out there about what it means to be, at our very substance and depth, men and women, the very body of Christ, the Church, as Christians we begin and end with the nail marks of Jesus Christ.