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Runaway Madness


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)

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 7:9-13 ESV


Dear Church Family,


     Samuel A. Cartwright was a doctor in Louisiana in the antebellum South. He was trying to explain an odd behavior he had observed among some slaves. What, he asked, would make happy, well-treated slaves, run away and search for freedom? In 1851, he proposed the answer: they are suffering from a mental disorder he called drapetomania, from Greek, meaning “runaway madness.” Clearly, he thought, slaves who want freedom are mentally ill. Cartwright, by the way, also proposed the disorder of dysaesthesia aethiopica (basically, laziness), which was also exclusive to African Americans. Since one symptom of the condition was insensitive skin, the cure included stimulation with leather straps and hard work in the hot sun.


     History is full of examples of people rationalizing their own views and behaviors. Jesus dealt with a disorder he called “hypocrisy,” which I suspect afflicted the good Dr. Cartwright. It certainly afflicted many of the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day. In Mark 7, Jesus’ disciples had been criticized for breaking some of the Jewish traditions related to washing of hands. Jesus’ prescription for this occasion was to point out the hypocritical way the Jews rationalized their own breaking of God’s law.


     The fifth of the Ten Commandments is to honor your father and mother. Certainly, that includes caring for the needs of your parents. The Jews, however, had developed a tradition called “Corban,” which means devoting something to God. You may ask, what could be wrong with that? Well, the details of the practice are sketchy, but it appears that one could devote a sum of money to God without actually losing possession of it. Once declared as “Corban,” however, no other claims could be made on that money. The irony is clear: by declaring something “devoted to God,” a Jew could avoid having to use that money in keeping the fifth commandment. A tradition invented by humans, supposedly out of devotion to God, was used in “making void the word of God.” Jesus concluded, “And many such things you do.”


     There may be no feeling which people try harder to avoid than guilt. Satan can use guilt to cripple us. On the other hand, guilt can also lead us to action. The solution to guilt is not running away from it, but honestly grappling with what we have done. In this honest evaluation of your actions, you may find that the solution to guilt is to confess your wrongdoing and seek God’s forgiveness. Healing may also include seeking to repair any damage you have done. It turns out that the real runaway madness is when we run away from our sins rather than confess them.


God bless,


Pastor Kevin


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