The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson, is a short story that was first published in the New Yorker in the summer of 1948. It is notable for being one of the “best short stories” in American Literature. I will briefly summarize the plot, but you might also consider reading the full story when you have time. It’s simply brilliant.
The lottery begins in a small New England village of about 300 people. The opening narrative begins with children gathering stones while the adults of the town begin to prepare for an annual ritual which is supposed to ensure a good harvest.
The villagers seem both nervous and excited about the event, and they discuss among themselves how other communities have given up the lottery.
“They do say,” Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery.”
But Old Man Warner, states,
“Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good
enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live hat way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,” he added petulantly…”
The villagers gather together around a big black box which contains slips of white paper. One of the white slips contains a penciled-in black dot. All the leaders of the household come forward and take a slip of paper for their family. Bill Hutchinson picks the slip of paper with the black dot, which means his family has been chosen. Then all members of his family must redraw a slip from the box, and his wife, Tessie pulls out the slip of paper with the black dot.
The story ends with the villagers gathering around poor Tessie and killing her with stones.Tessie desperately asks them to not go through with the lottery before she is stoned to death.
It’s a morbid and crazy story, but the themes of the story are ones that we should consider. Shirley Jackson challenges our ideas about ancient traditions by putting them in a modern setting, and allowing us to consider if cultural traditions are good or bad.
Sometimes we blindly follow traditions without first contemplating their true meaning. Jesus himself was questioned about traditions, and his answers might surprise you.
So far, I’ve done my best to just walk you through Mark, chapter by chapter, and only address what is happening in those specific texts. However, this chapter of Mark requires a little bit of understanding about Jewish culture prior to reading to really understand what is going on. I will take the time to do so, here, but you’re welcome to skip ahead.
The Torah is the first five books of the Christian Old Testament which include: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These five books were a combination of history and written instructions that God had Moses (the first prophet) write down.
(Photo Credit: https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/our-simchat-torah-song/)
God communicated his will for Israel in the Torah. He first gave them laws about how they were supposed to interact with him. They were commanded to worship God alone and no one else. He gave them certain laws about how to live with other people, how to treat other people, how to steward his creation, even what to eat and drink, and what to wear. It was the beginning of communicating his desires for all of humanity, but he promised Israel that if they would obey his laws, then he would richly bless them forever. As God blessed Israel for their obedience, they would be a model of how life was initially meant to be for all people in the world.
So, the Torah is the Jewish law which communicates everything that is essential for a Jew to live according to God’s Law. In addition to the written Torah, the Jews also had an oral tradition called The Talmud.
The Talmud was a set or oral teachings given by Rabbi’s about the original Torah scriptures and how to apply the Torah to daily life. The oral teachings were compiled over two centuries and were finally written down in a compilation known as the Mishnah. After the Mishnah, Rabbis continued to interpret and comment on the law and on the Mishnah. All of this was written down and is known as the Gemara. These two commentaries on the Torah form one long reading known as The Talmud. You can think about it like this: If you are taking an academic class, you will usually have a textbook and your professors notes. Think of The Torah as the textbook, and the Talmud as all the extra stuff written by the professor about the textbook.
So, Torah = Textbook.
Talmud = Notes, Handouts, Visuals, Presentations, Lectures by Teacher
Clear as mud, right?
In this chapter of Mark, Jesus goes to Gennesaret and people are bringing him the sick and diseased in order to receive healing from him. They must have heard about the woman who touched the fringe of his cloak in the crowd, because Mark notes that “as many as touched it were made well.” (Mark 6:56). So Jesus way of ministering to people is really catching on.
Well some Pharisees traveled all the way from Jerusalem in order to observe Jesus ministry happening in Gennesaret. At some point, the pharisees notice that Jesus disciples do not wash their hands ‘according to the traditions of the elders’ (i.e the prescribed method by other Pharisees in the Talmud for ritual purity, not the actual verses in the Torah) From what I understand (and I had to look this up!) the ceremonial way to wash your hands is to pour water over one hand twice, and then repeat the process on your other hand. You then dry your hands with a towel and say a special blessing.
This was a standard cleansing practice for good Jews. When the Pharisees note that the disciples do not wash their hands; it has nothing to do with hygiene. Rather, the Pharisees believe they are defiling themselves by not following through with their ritual cleansing as laid out by other Rabbis in the Talmud. And they want Jesus to know it.
When the Pharisees ask Jesus about hand-washing, his answer seems quite harsh. He calls them hypocrites, and then proceeds to bring up parts of the Torah that they don’t follow. Jesus basically wants them to see that their very traditions have taken precedent over the actual scriptures. For example, God made provisions for aging parents in the Torah by putting the responsibility of their care on their children. Instead, the Rabbis decided it was equally acceptable to dedicate this money to God and not use it to take care of their parents.
Jesus is telling them that instead of doing what is right (like providing for parents as they get older and are unable to take care of themselves) that they used this very law (which was meant to benefit people.) to oppress and neglect the very people God loved so much. In the text, Jesus’ criticism seems severe; however, a defining characteristic of Jesus ministry is helping the oppressed. Jesus heals sick people everywhere he goes, and he is critical of people who claim to know God yet neglect the hurting.
This is good news for the sick, good news for the weak, and good news for the oppressed. Jesus does not care who is in power; he is on a mission to save people, and he does so whatever the personal cost.
Immediately after this confrontation, Jesus travels to the region of Tyre and Sidon. You get the impression that he goes there for some alone time, but he is immediately hounded by a woman who begs him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. (remember, his ministry was quite viral at the time, and he often was unable to go anywhere without people coming to him by the hundreds. Personal cost of helping people, yea?) The text tells us the woman is a Gentile, a Syrophoenician, by birth. Now if you’re new to the bible, this may not mean much to you. If you are, just know there were strong racial and social tensions between Jews and Gentiles. They had a long history of feuding, and they did not associate with one another. (an example would be the feuds between the Hatfields and the Mccoys or like turf wars between gangs).
Jesus says something to the Syrophoenician woman that seems surprisingly harsh, but the woman responds with great faith in who he is, regardless of the Gentile/Jew clash. This story is also recorded in Matthew 15:21-28, and Matthew gives us insight into what the disciples thought of this whole situation. Against all the odds piled against this woman, Jesus heals the woman’s daughter, and she goes away thankful.
Some people will read this section of Mark, and they probably won’t like Jesus very much at all. (Remember you can comment your impressions of the text, and I would love to hear what you think!)
Directly after this healing, Jesus travels to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Mark specifically mentions he was in the Decapolis region. Now if you’ll recall from Mark 5, Jesus healed the man with the Legion of demons in the Decapolis. Remember all the demons who rushed into a herd of pigs and drowned in the river? This man wanted to follow Jesus, but instead Jesus told him to go back to his hometown and tell people what Jesus had done for him. It is clear that Legion did in fact go tell everyone what Jesus had done for him because Jesus tries to remain hidden in their region but is unable to do so.
This compilation of stories, Jesus condemning the Pharisees for their disobedience of the Torah, healing a Gentile woman’s daughter, and a later healing of a deaf and mute man in the Decapolis, reveal the depth of Jesus’ character.
As you read Mark 7,
Look for what Jesus has on his heart
If we really want to understand who Jesus was, then we have to look at what he cared about. This chapter makes it clear that Jesus really values the Hebrew Scriptures, loving people who were historically the Jews enemies, and last but certainly not least, teaching his disciples to do the same. Ask the question, why does Jesus immediately take them into enemy territory and speak with an “unclean woman” after talking about “what makes a person unclean.” What does Jesus mean by all of this?
Continue looking for the Bible Words
Jesus quotes from the book of Isaiah in this chapter (and if you’ll look at the bottom of the bible you are reading, it should give you the scripture reference.) Recall that Mark also introduced John the Baptist to us by referencing Isaiah. Mark makes very little references to outside scriptures, but the two times he does- he references Isaiah.
Make a Map, Jesus is headed somewhere
At this point in Mark, you will do well to print out a map of Israel from this time and the surrounding regions. Mark the places Jesus travels in chronological order. It seems he has a strategy for where he is going, and it’s our job to figure out where he is headed.
While you’re drawing your map, make a Sin List
Jesus begins condemning certain actions and heart attitudes in this chapter. He actually has quite the discourse on what is and what isn’t sin. We need to take note of this because he is quite serious about sin. Jesus is very serious about God’s law. He is also very serious with how people are treated, and how his followers should treat others. If we want to be like him, then we need to begin to recognize what Jesus loves and condemn what he hates.
And now, finally, on to the Real Good Stuff…
Traditions and Commandments
7 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly,[a] holding to the tradition of the elders,4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.[b]And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.[c]) 5 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?” 6 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;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 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)[d]— 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.”
What Defiles a Person
14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”[e] 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him,19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”[f] (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.[g] And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
Jesus Heals a Deaf Man
31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus[h] charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”