|The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary
Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
So as to be more available to the grace contained in the Word
of God in our liturgy, imagine Jesus having very dirty hands from having been
working in his garden. His disciples are seated at the end of the garden
surrounding a kind of picnic table. They too have been helping Jesus
pull weeds. They had also pulled and plucked their noon meal, peeled
the onions, scraped the dust off some beans and were enjoying themselves while
listening to Jesus discussing heavy thoughts with the scribes and Pharisees.
It is difficult to say which they enjoy more.
We are praying for the grace to want to do what is holy, rather
than have to do what is expected. This is very difficult for us in
the western world. We love fulfilling exactly the expectations of others
or an organization and when we do, well, we are guiltless and perfect, in
a sense. Completing expectations is not the heart of a relationship.
Jesus is inviting us to pray with the truth of his love and the truth of
We pray for his love to wash our hearts of fearing God so that
when we go to the market and return from the market we will have washed that
market with our presence. We will return and bless the potatoes and
onions and the dirt from which they have come. We can pray with dirty
hands and cleaner and cleaner hearts to extend those dirty hands in praise
of the God who dirtied himself by walking in our mud.
The laws and customs which Moses will offer to God’s people, Israel, and
which follow in subsequent chapters, are meant as invitations to life and
freedom rather than burdens to which to be enslaved. In the previous
chapter leading to our reading today from Deuteronomy, Moses has given instructions
to the men to prepare to wage war so as to gain their new homeland. The
land becomes a sacred reminder of the fruitfulness which derives from trusting
the faithful God.
What we hear is an instruction about the wisdom behind these laws and customs.
They are wise because they come from the God of Wisdom, the Source of Life.
They are wise, because they will prove to be more powerful and influential
in establishing their new home than the power of arms waging war. The
inhabitants will be won over to believing in the “one God” when they see
how well the Israelites live together, fruitfully, justly, and trustingly
in their “one God.”
The way the Jews are to live will reveal not only their intelligence, but
the closeness of their God to them. This God cares for them, guides them and
has revealed to them how to take care of the land and other gifts they have
We return to Mark’s Gospel today and find Jesus inviting the scribes and
Pharisees to reflect on the why of their customs rather than the what. The
religious officials of the Jews have been noticing that Jesus and his disciples
do not keep the “traditions” of the “elders.” The “law” is one thing,
but these “traditions” are added practices which extend the “law” and the
power and prestige of the Rabbis who advance them. Washing of hands
and cups is the center of the problem in this reading, but there are other
accretions to the “law” to which Jesus takes exception.
The Law of Moses was part of the Covenant which God made with the Jews and
was meant to help their relationship or response to this covenanting God.
In a sense God is saying, “I have done all these great things for you; keeping
these laws and customs is how you live, more than say, thank you.”
The practices and little traditions have gotten in the way. They have
become responses to the religious officials. The keeping of these has become
more important than keeping the relationship which God has initiated, alive
in their hearts. “This nation honors me with their lips, but their hearts
are far from me; in vain do they worship me.”
Love is shown in deeds, but so is shame. Having dirt under ones nails
comes from doing something outside the body. The deeds of evil come
from within and are not erased by washing hands or saucers. Lady MacBeth
has been washing the spots off her hands for centuries and will never rid
herself of the “damn spot” by all that scrubbing. The list of interior
attitudes is quite extensive and encompassing. Jesus did not mince
words or leave much to legal interpretation. Worship of God comes from
the heart, but the heart hears these other calls as well. As always,
Jesus offers the invitation to struggle against foreign voices and do those
things which will purify the heart, spirit and soul.
In senior year of high school, a Jesuit place, we were told that kissing
girls could be dangerous. To avoid such, one of the rules was that
a kiss should last only as long as one could say “grapefruit.” It was
hard to imagine kissing while saying that word. After some discussion,
we decided that saying “graaaaaaaaaaaaape fruuuuuuuuuuuit” was well within
the legal limit. We love to figure out ways to wiggle within the boundaries
of self-righteousness. How far could we go before having to line up
during Monday-morning mass to go to Confession. WE were all budding
lawyers as well as budding lovers.
Jesus, as Moses before him, offers us reminders of the relationship which
God has extended to us. He embraces our interior with its fragilities.
The external actions will reflect the status of the battle inside.
To pretend that there is no battle going on is to be in delusion. Pretending
by strict conformity to rules, laws, customs, and traditions out of fear,
may look good, but eventually will result in a confusion, distraction, and
disorder of soul and life. Externals are a revelation of a truth rather
than a cover-up for a lie. Jesus came to give us our truth and invites
us to reveal it.
“O Lord, how great is the depth of the kindness
which you have shown to those who love you.” Psalm 31