(A biblical refection on THE 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME [YEAR B], 2 September 2018)

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 

The Scripture Text

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 7:1-8,14-15,21-23 RSV)

The oral traditions were interpretations of the laws God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai which explained how the Jews were to apply the laws in everyday life. At first, the rabbis did not write down these interpretations but passed them on by word of mouth.

By Jesus’ time, some of the scribes who belonged to one group of Pharisees considered the oral traditions as important as the laws themselves, so they taught that a person who wanted to be holy had to follow both the 613 oral traditions and the laws in Sacred Scripture. All people who failed to observe them, even those who didn’t know what they were and those who accidentally broke one, were sinners.

Some oral traditions outlined how Jews were to wash their hands before eating a meal and spelled out in detail such things as which direction they should point their fingers when they poured water over them, how much water they should use, and the type of container they should store the water in. Overlooking nothing, the oral traditions even gave an exact step-by-step procedure describing how one hand should wash the other!

Anyone who did not observe these oral traditions was ritually unclean. This did not mean the person was dirty, but it did prevent the person from taking part in any formal religious worship. An unclean person had to go through even more rituals to be cleansed of the impurity.

One could also become unclean by coming in contact with something touched by an unclean person. Therefore, pious Jews often sprinkled food they purchased in the marketplace with water because they did not know who touched it. Likewise, they washed plates, cups, jugs, and utensils in a special way before using them.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus objects to these oral traditions because they became more important than how one treated family and friends. Jesus points out that being hateful, or gossipy, or adulterous is much more serious than failing to properly wash hands or utensils before eating. We do not find holiness in a ritual but in how we treat one another.

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, 31 August 2018 

A Christian Pilgrim 

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Posted by on September 1, 2018 in BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS 2018


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