February 9th, 2021

The Gospel according to Mark (7:1-13) 

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem
gathered around Jesus,
they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals
with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.
(For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews,
do not eat without carefully washing their hands,
keeping the tradition of the elders.
And on coming from the marketplace
they do not eat without purifying themselves.
And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed,
the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.)
So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him,
“Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders
but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”  
He responded,
“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites,
as it is written:

    This people honors me with their lips,
        but their hearts are far from me;
    in vain do they worship me,
        teaching as doctrines human precepts.

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
He went on to say,
“How well you have set aside the commandment of God
in order to uphold your tradition!
For Moses said,
    Honor your father and your mother,
    and Whoever curses father or mother shall die.
Yet you say,
‘If someone says to father or mother,
“Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’
(meaning, dedicated to God),
you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother.
You nullify the word of God
in favor of your tradition that you have handed on.
And you do many such things.” 

Opening Prayer: Loving God, thank You for the faith that You inspire in me each day.  Let me see the rules of the Church not as the ultimate ends, but as guidelines to help us in our ultimate destiny: taking our place with You in the Heavenly kingdom forever.  Above all, help me to love as You do.  Amen.

Encountering Christ:

We are only in the fifth week of Ordinary Time, and yet we are nearly halfway through Mark’s Gospel.  At sixteen chapters, it is by far the shortest of the four Gospels.  I’ve mentioned before that Mark’s account of Jesus’ life and mission reads much like an action film.  Jesus is always going, doing, healing, and teaching.  By this point in His ministry, He has clearly aroused great concern among the teachers of His day: the scribes and the Pharisees in particular.  We aren’t told where exactly Jesus was at this point in the story, just that the leaders came all the way from Jerusalem, and they obviously were looking for any mis-steps that Jesus might make.

That’s why Jesus makes the point that what the scribes and Pharisees call “worship” is really just “lip service”.  The reason for the rules is to give the day-to-day life of the Jewish people some structure to help them learn to focus more on God and His goodness.  To the scribes & Pharisees, though, worshipping God must fit within the many hundreds of traditions that went far beyond the basic precepts of the Jewish Law, namely, the Ten Commandments that Moses received from God on Mt Sinai.

What Jesus said turned that whole tradition of the Jewish people on its head.  His whole mission and whole ministry were all about loving service of our fellow human beings.  To Jesus, following these guidelines was always out of how they drew the worshipper closer to God, and how the worshipper expressed the love that God has for each and every one of us.  Our own Catholic faith can be seen in a similar light. 

We do have a number of rules and guidelines that the Church asks us to follow.  Coming up next week, we enter the season of Lent, which has its own additional guidelines – fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, abstaining from meat on Fridays, “giving up something” as a sacrifice during the whole season, for example.

An important observation we can make is that the rules should not be our ultimate end.  What we are challenged to do is to see beyond the rules to the reason behind their existence.  During Lent in particular, we are called to re-prioritize our lives, centering all we do in God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for others in our lives.  That’s the basis for these rules.  God does not want followers who only do good or give worship to Him because it is required.  God wants followers who do good because it is what God wants, and because doing it brings God and others joy.  Living a life with that perspective gives true worship to God, and is something that each of us should seek to do in whatever way we can.

We are never required to follow that law of love perfectly.  God will never cast us aside, no matter how many times we fail.  Through the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we can come back to God at any time.  The important thing is to promise to do the best we can to live as a true follower of Jesus, and to ask God to give us the grace and the ability to do that every day of our lives.

Closing Prayer: Blessed Lord, You call me to live out the love that caused You to send Your Son to be our Redeemer.  Give me the grace to live a life that shines forth with Your love, and that draws others to come to know You better and more closely.  Thank You for loving me, no matter what.  Amen.

Action for the Day: Take time today to reflect on someone that you believe to be in need of God’s love, and pray for that person to receive a special grace today.

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