22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel – Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23, and 6: 24-35
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. For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace, they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. 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.”
Our reading this week returns us to Mark’s Gospel where we find some Pharisees and scribes questioning Jesus about his disciples’ adherence to external practices. They held that observing the Law of Moses, which called for ritual washings, to be of utmost importance in publicly demonstrating their commitment to the Covenant. Adherence to these activities, originally only required of Temple priests when celebrating liturgies, became the daily practice of community members wanting to be in a holy relationship with God. Their daily habits and patterns of behavior were their way of conveying their identity as an authentic community of God’s chosen people.
Jesus called the people of his time and indeed he calls all people throughout the ages to focus rather on the state of their hearts. He teaches that God wants us to have an awareness of the internal dispositions of our hearts and desires. This discernment and the subsequent actions that flow from it are how we claim and proclaim our identity and our faithfulness to God. The life of the faithful person is marked by honoring God through prayer and worship and through reaching out in love to those whom we encounter, especially those in most need.
Let us spend some time this week reflecting on how we are forming a loving relationship with God and others in our hearts and in our daily interactions. I heard the 1966 Peter Scholtes’ hymn “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love” a month ago at Mass and I was reminded that there are external behaviors that provide an opportunity to identify our beliefs through our actions. Is there a song or poem that speaks to you about an expression of what is in your heart?”