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?”
“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.”
I think it is safe to say that Jesus caused quite an uproar among the Pharisees. In Mark’s Gospel, which always highlights Jesus “in action”, we see that in the deepening confrontation between Jesus and those religious scholars. At the heart of the disagreement is the appropriate priority for the “traditions” of the Jewish law, vs. the reason for those traditions and the laws: love of God and neighbor.
I suspect my boys have always thought it odd, but one thing that I do when someone cuts me off is I make the sign of the Cross, blessing them. Now, you likely think me out of my mind, but allow me to explain first! I do that ritual for two reasons. First, if the other person cut me off, then it is possible that they may do that to someone else, and that someone else may not react in time, and the result would be a traffic collision, and someone could be hurt. That would not be a good thing.
Second, my getting upset is not going to somehow do away with the fact that the other person cut me off – it will not do anything to dissuade that other person that I have been wronged. All it would do is have me focus on the upset, rather than whatever it is that God has in mind for me to do. So, I choose to give a blessing, which helps me at least, and who knows.. it may help the other person, too.
So how does this relate to the Gospel? Consider if the Pharisees had, rather than confronting Jesus about not following the “traditions”, thought of how Jesus’ ministry and teaching was all oriented to showing the endless love of the Father. The dynamic of that time would have been totally different. Those same Pharisees who were all about catching others not following the rules would, instead, see those rules as ways to encourage love of God by encouraging love of neighbor. They would have been partners with Jesus, rather than adversaries.
Each of us is called to be a partner with Jesus. We are asked to follow the rules and guidelines of our faith. It’s not because there is a scorecard and we have to have a certain “score” to get to heaven. It is because they remind us to continually pay attention to God, and be willing to share His love, no matter what. By loving our neighbor, we are sharing the love of God inside us. That is all that God wants from us! Doing so is the best service that any of us as His children can offer back to Him.
Action for the Day: Today, think of the one person who is most annoying or difficult in your life. Once you have that person firmly in mind, say a prayer for that person, that he or she may feel God’s presence and love today. And, if God gives you the chance to do some kind act for that annoying or difficult person, do it!
If you would like to hear this reflection, click the link below!