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 our response.
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 received.
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 sham. 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.
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.” Ps. 31
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