JESUS REBUKED THE PHARISEES FOR RELYING ON OUTWARD PURIFICATION
(A biblical refection on THE 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME [YEAR B] – August 30, 2015)
Gospel Reading: Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8; Psalms: Psalm 15:2-5; Second Reading: James 1:17-18,21-22,27
Now when the Pharisees gathered together to Him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of His disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?” and He said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.”
And He called the people to Him again, and said to them, “Hear Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.”
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mark 7:1-9,14-15,21-23 RSV)
As the Son of God who took on our humanity, Jesus knew two universal truths about the human heart: First, that we were created with a deep longing to be united with God; and second, that because of sin, we are constantly found loving ourselves more than anyone else. We are unable to remain united with God because of our sinful desires: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within, and they defile a man” (Mark 7:21-23).
Jesus knew how easily we can deceive ourselves about what lies within us. Religious discipline – which controls exterior action – can sometimes result in a stale, legalistic piety. By avoiding gross sin, we may presume to reach a comfortable plateau in our relationship with God.
Knowing this tendency, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for relying on outward purification. He did not condemn their traditions from any persevere rebellion against authority. He wanted them as Israel’s spiritual leaders, to realize that laws and regulations while affecting outward behavior can leave interior drives unchanged. Jesus knew that in order to abide with God, we must constantly be purifying the way we live.
Jesus was not condemning religious rituals; rather He was condemning inner inclinations which can be masked by participation in religious ceremonies. Jesus, however, through the Holy Spirit, truly transforms the wicked heart. He alone can remove the obstacles that prevent us from loving God and other people. He give us genuine power to love, not based on moral will-power or efforts toward self-improvement, but from a true reflection of God’s boundless love for all: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
The human heart finds it natural to be wary of the Lord’s call for constant purification. Yet we must not deny the interior longing within each of us to come into God’s presence. Centuries ago the psalmist expressed thing longing: “LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy mountain?” (Psalm 15:1 NAB). Jesus was the first to ascend to God for our sake, as our high priest. He invites us to be purified by the power of His blood, by becoming one with His body. Let us respond to Him, confident that Christ will complete the purification He has already begun.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You alone can remove the obstacles that prevent us from loving God and other people. Through the Holy Spirit, transform our wicked hearts, and make us Your faithful disciples. Amen.
Jakarta, 28 August 2015
A Christian Pilgrim