1. 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… 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 summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand.
Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile… From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” (Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23). Taken from today’s Sunday gospel.
2. Human traditions and external manifestations of religion have beclouded the the essentials of true relationship with God. This is not new. At the time of Jesus the problem was already there. This constituted the major point of conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his time. In today’s episode Jesus takes them on their preferring their tradition to the clear teachings of the Word of God. It began from the observation that the disciples of Jesus do not follow the rigorous process of ablution before eating their food.
3. The strict observance of ablution was not a measure of hygiene but a ritual purification. It was based on an erroneous conception that a person becomes unholy and unpleasing to God by the things that pass through his/her mouth into his body. This believe leads to external packaging or hypocrisy which does very little to ameliorate the true relationship with God through the practice of moral virtues. To counter this attitude Jesus referred to the prophecy of Isaiah about those who honour God with their lips while their hearts are far from him. We can connect this reproach to many of the present day brainwashing of the congregation by the religious leaders. People are told for example that if they do not pay tithes they will not make heaven even when they are charitable to the poor and needy. Jesus will waste no time in telling them to seek first the righteousness of the kingdom. The pharisees specialized in placing emphasis on minor issues and highlighting the trifles. Jesus would later accuse them of swallowing a camel and straining at a gnat.
4. Having attacked the externalism that characterized the religious life of his time Jesus addressed directly the crowd who have been the subject of the indoctrination. He asked them to reason with him and see that nothing of what enters a person’s mouth can defile him before God because what is eaten does not remain in the person but passes through the body to the toilet or urinary. It was a new teaching, a sort of scandal to a people who has been tutored to observe scrupulously the tradition of washing. It was like when during the COVID-19 lockdown, the pope announced that people can do without auricular confession of their sins and still feel reconciled with God. The apostles had to come privately to Jesus to tell him how scandalous the people felt on hearing his teaching. That is the simplicity of God and complexity of humans. We believe that the more complex a doctrine the more authentic its content.
5. The essential of Jesus’ message today is that God does not need complex things from his children. He only wants them to keep their hearts clean by abstaining from sin. He emphasized that it is from dirty hearts that the different regular sins emanate. They should therefore struggle to be doers of the word in its simplicity. The Word becomes the key for the interpretation of any tradition. As the Prophet Micah pointed out, God wants only three things: “that you love gently, that show mercy and walk humbly with your God.”(6:8) We worry about a lot of things concerning our salvation but this should not be the case because the essential is already revealed.
6. You must have learnt a lot of doctrines of the christian faith from different men of God. It is important that you continue to learn because there is no knowledge that is not power. However, do not lose your capacity of discernment. It is not every teaching that must be accepted. Some teachers are like the scribes and pharisees who interprete the Word of God from an interested party point of view. You can always make inquiries when in doubt. Above all, you must be doer and not just hearer or knower of the Word. Be among those who hear the Word of God and keep it. In doing this you will be a brother or sister of Jesus Christ. @vita, 29/08/21.