The Corban / Korban Conspiracy

Jesus accuses the religious hypocrites of using their traditions to form a conspiracy with the wealthy and influential in the congregation to defraud their fathers and mothers of their retirement benefits.  Jesus uncovers a clever conspiracy in which the hand washers were also laundering money.

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Mark 7:1-13 NOW WHEN the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, 2. they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. 3. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; 4. and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.)  5. And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?" 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 precepts of men.' 8. You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men."  9. And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition! 10. For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die'; 11. but you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, What 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 through your tradition which you hand on.

We May Never Know

   Regarding the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma in 1995: was it government conspiracy and cover-up? 

   Most of us can remember where we were when that happened.  (I was eating blue crabs in Ft. Walton Beach.)  It made a huge impression on the patrons there when it happened.  But now that Tim McVeigh has been executed, we don't hear much about the whole affair anymore.  However, conspiracy theorists haven't forgotten it!  Some say that the ATF blew up their own building; that the black canisters stored in the ATF offices within the Murrah Building were the very canisters believed to be in the truck that held the bomb.  Furthermore, the government never allowed independent investigators to thoroughly check the scene.  Experts say that no single fertilizer bomb could possibly do such damage.  The ATF and FBI officers who were to be the primary targets weren't even in the building the day it was destroyed.  To conspiracy theorists, the ATF blew up their own building and killed 100 innocent people in the wake of Waco and Ruby Ridge it in order to united the public against certain groups of citizens they deemed suspicious.  Like so many other mysteries, we may never know if it was a conspiracy or not.


What Is Conspiracy?

   What is conspiracy?  The word comes from Latin meaning 'hopefully assembled.' A conspiracy is a 'coming together' usually for some negative purpose, like a minority of people 'hopefully assembled' to take advantage of or do harm to the majority. The majority being exploited through conspiracy often doesn't even know that they've been exploited until it's too late.  Even then, many conspiracies go unexplained.

   The Bible is full of conspiracies. None is more pertinent to us than The Corban Conspiracy of Mark 7.

Hand Washing

   The religious authorities watched Jesus' friends dining. (They definitely weren’t eating blue crabs at the time, since these are considered unclean.)  The question isn’t a curiosity but an accusation that demands a response.   It was against the religious law for these observant Jews to eat with unwashed hands. "Why are your disciples breaking the law?" they shouted at Jesus, hoping to have grounds for an arrest.

   It's a good thing to wash your hands before eating. My grandma made me go into the lavatory (the wash house) and scrub my hands with Lava Soap before every meal.  It was the law around her house - Lava Soap in the lavatory for 3 minutes.  Keep her law or don't eat.  The outcome of observing her law was that I had dry, cracked hands for most of my childhood. 

   But unlike grandma, the religious authorities weren't interested in washing for the sake of cleanliness. The washing they required was merely a ritual of worship they had invented themselves then forced on everyone else. This washing was elaborate to the point of the ridiculous:

   Water jars were kept ready to be used before a meal. The minimum amount of water to be used was enough to fill one and a half eggshells. The water was first poured on both hands, held with the fingers pointed upwards, and must run up the arm as far as the wrist, then must drop off, for the water was now itself unclean. If it ran down the fingers again, it would again render them unclean. The process was repeated with the hands held in the opposite direction, with the fingers pointing down; and then finally each hand was cleansed by being rubbed with the fist of the other. A religious Jew would do all this before a meal and between courses.  (Some of this was recently uncovered in the MMT document from Qumran.)

   This ridiculous washing, a man-made tradition of “the elders,” became a law that, if followed scrupulously, was supposed to render worship to Yahweh.  Jesus and his disciples were thus accused of being disrespectful of Yahweh and unclean.  How should they know that such was expected of them?  But Jesus answered with his own accusation: "You are all religious actors demanding your religious habits over true worship of Yahweh."
   Friends, the Father is not so interested in hand washing these days, but heart washing. These worthless washings of the religious were imposed only as a means of taking control over others. This spirit of control was a cancer in the temple then as it is in the body now.  Control and human tradition is the destroyer of a church. The spirit of control leads his people into strife, disagreement, prejudice and conspiracy.

Conspiracy Uncovered

   While the religious leaders were concerned with hand washing, Jesus was concerned about a control situation much more serious than that.  Here, Jesus accuses the religious hypocrites of using their traditions to form a conspiracy with the wealthy and influential in the congregation to defraud their fathers and mothers of their retirement benefits.  Jesus uncovers a clever conspiracy in which the hand washers were also laundering money.

   Jesus is talking about a scam that worked like this: Parents had brought children into the world and taken care of their financial needs until they became adults.  It was only fair that when parents became no longer able to support themselves that their children would repay them the service.  Sons therefore were expected to financially support their aging parents. This is the reason Yahweh commanded that we “Honor our father and mother.”  This “honor” is not just about thinking the best of them.  It means supporting them.  You can recognize this is true when you look at the promise associated with such honor: 

12. Honor your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land that Yahweh your Elohim is giving you.

Understand that you can live long in the land if your children eventually follow the commandment themselves.  Remember, there was no modern medicine, life extension programs, old folks homes or welfare in those days! 

   But according to the tradition of the religious leaders, if someone paid a stiff fee (the corban) to them, he could then dispossess his parents and leave them destitute without recourse, keeping the money he would have had to spend on their upkeep.  This "Corban Conspiracy" was a loophole in the direct command of Yahweh, allowing many who had wealth to cheat their parents with official religious and legal sanction.  In the meantime, the Temple bunch got rich on the corban.  And they’re concerned about the disciples’ hand washing while they practice injustice this serious?


For This Moment

   Now there's a double meaning here; a good one for us moderns.  Tradition isn’t wrong at all; it’s “the celebration of the past.”  There are very fine traditions, some of them we regularly observe to our satisfaction and Yahweh’s pleasure, like Communion.  However, we believers are not to dwell constantly or entirely on what has been done, but what Yahweh is doing in the now and what he wants to do in the future.  We may look back and exclaim in pride, "We had 1125 in the worship service in 1956," or "When brother so-and-so was here we had a great youth program,” or even, “Look what the church did last year."

   Our priority is to be with seeing that Yahweh’s plan for this moment, this hour, this decade to come will come to pass through us.  We can’t pay a tax today on someone else’s future, like the corban.  Nor can we cheat Yahweh or teach myths and legends instead of the Word of Truth.  We need to have a break with traditions or thought patterns or stinkin’ thinkin’ that hampers the commandments of Yahweh in regard to our spiritual posterity. 

   We also need to be more Word- and Deed-oriented in order to complete our task as light to a dark community.  What does the Word really say?  What revelation that we receive from it is true and what should we discard?  Where do we stand now and where are we headed?  There should an important future to plan.  But, like the corban, the devises of our evangelism are left up to the religious leader or the pastor. 


Pastor’s Job

   Speaking of the pastor, I was speaking to a pastor this afternoon at home.  He had hit the mandatory retirement age of 70.  In that time, he had pastored some of the great churches in the Conference.  He retired for three months.  Because the Conference is short of ministers, the Bishop called this man to a little church down the road.  The people in the church protested – they felt they needed a younger man with a lot of energy because the church had gone down so in the last few years.  That was their tradition and their incorrect mindset.  My new friend was appointed over their protests.

   We were talking about the job of a pastor.  Besides the administrative duties, the job description of a pastor really consists in three words:  Word, Order and Sacrament.  We “religious leaders” are to be avid students of the Word of Yahweh as well as teachers of the plain truth.  We are to see to the Order of worship, so that all who gather together might be able to give Yahweh the glory together as one in meaningful and inclusive ways.  I used to think it was more authentic when Sunday worship was disorderly and spontaneous rather than orderly and in order.  I was wrong then.

   Finally, the third word on the job description is sacrament.  That means that the pastor is to lead us into the experience of the mystical body of Jesus, which offers greater and greater grace as we commune more freely and more often.  In my opinion, we should have communion every time we gather.  However, we compromise.  What we can offer above and beyond this is constant prayer on behalf of those in the parish.  I’m trying hard to fulfill this little description and put aside the peripheral areas that I’m weak in, hoping that his strength will manifest in my weakness.

   Anyway, the “retired” pastor that visited me has been in this little church for six months.  He has attended to the Word, Order and Sacrament, despite the opposition of some in the parish, who thinks he’s done at seventy-one.  He came over because he needed some choir accompaniments taped.  “Yes,” he said, “I started a little choir over there.  We just have a few but we’re going to do a Christmas program.”  When he left, I looked at my email and saw that his church is now advertising for a part-time youth director.  Seems the guy isn’t so over-the-hill after all.  What was over-the-hill was the traditional, hand-washing mentality of the religious leaders in his church!

The Conspiracy Broken

   This brings me to the point of the message.  There seems sometimes to be a conspiracy among the religious folks in church as to what their church and pastor are supposed to be.  Maybe it’s more tradition than conspiracy, or a conspiracy simply to celebrate the past.  This is why some folks leave and why some who have left want to inflict great harm and hurt.  Theirs is a well-meaning conspiracy with the devil.

   What’s of utmost importance that if we are going to be true worshipers, we need to put aside what has been or what might have been or what we want and concentrate upon what He wants for his true worshipers now.  That means that we need to be serious in prayer for the parish and for one another at home as well as in a gathering.  That means that we need to be meditating upon the truth of his Word, opening our hearts to his direction then listening for what he has to say in regards to what we should do.  Then DO.

   If we can be diligent in this way, then we will in short order see a manifestation of answers – we will achieve a common vision of what the church is supposed to become – and, in our doing, it will become what we envision.  But we must break out of the conspiracy of doing the same old thing the same old way.  There’s so much that needs to be done here and there’s so much that Yahweh has already revealed for us to do.  Maybe now we need to look again to what he has given us and not pay the corban – not just get away with paying the little bit we need to in order to get by – but to fulfill our promise to the max and fulfill our destiny in the Kingdom.

Jackson Snyder, April 27, 1997, updated November 20, 2002

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