Today’s Gospel: Mark 7:14-23
To set the scene, let’s start at the beginning of Mark 7. Jesus and His disciples find themselves surrounded by a group of Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem. The Pharisees watch Jesus’ disciples violate “the tradition of the elders.” (The “tradition of the elders” are the man-made laws that the Pharisees added to the Mosaic Law to make ritual purity more strict.)
Have you ever heard someone say that someone is “more Catholic than the pope,” meaning that the individual may live more rigorously than is necessary? Likewise, in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were more Jewish than Jesus. Watching Jesus’ disciples eating with unwashed hands and not following other traditions deeply troubled the Pharisees, and they demanded an explanation from Jesus.
Jesus responds that defilement doesn’t come from what we eat (as in the Mosaic Law of the Old Covenant); the “things that come out of a man are what defile him.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “Out with the old, and in with the new!” He was doing away with the Old Covenant Mosaic Laws and introducing Himself as the embodiment of the New Covenant. In addition to following the Ten Commandments, Jesus wanted His followers to be cleansed internally of all that kept them from knowing, loving, and serving Him.
With their deep attachment to Old Covenant Israel, the Pharisees continued to clash with Christ throughout His life. As faithful Jews being ruled by the pagan Romans, they sought to separate themselves from the Gentiles so that God would rescue them. In fact, the name Pharisee comes from the Hebrew word perushim, meaning, “separated ones.” Instead of acting as a royal priesthood for all of the nations, their top priority was insulating themselves from all outsiders and those not adhering to their strict, legalistic “tradition of the elders.”
God sought obedience over sacrifice in the Old Testament. “And Samuel said, ‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Sam 15:22). In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus seeking obedience rather than sacrifice in His dealings with the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were so focused on their strict adherence to the “tradition of the elders” to the detriment of their hearts. In the New Covenant, Jesus writes His Law on our hearts. The heart, He says, is where we need to safeguard ourselves from what can defile. After rattling off a laundry list of “evil things,” Christ says that they “come from within, and they defile a man” (Mk 7:23).
Today, many of us “in the fold” of Catholicism are tempted to act like the Pharisees. We try to insulate ourselves to keep the Church “pure” from everyone that doesn’t follow the code
we think they ought to be living. Fortunately, God gave us Pope Francis to rid the Church of the tendency to insulate. In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis talks about the need of our Church doors to be open. (If you haven’t read it yet, please do! Here is a phenomenal series breaking down the exhortation with daily reflections.)
In paragraph 49, Pope Francis writes,
Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37). (Emphases mine)
Go back and re-read that paragraph. Then, read it a third time. Tape it to your kitchen cupboard. Better yet, tape it to your forehead.
It’s time for all of us to follow the command we are given at the dismissal of Mass. “Ite, missa est,” or “Go! You are sent!” We receive Christ in the Eucharist at Mass. Upon leaving our church doors, we are to bring Him to the world.
As Mark Shea wrote,
“for the vast majority of us, the work of the gospel is to be done in the world, not in the sanctuary. At the altar, the priest presides because it is his task to hand on the Tradition and the sacraments to us. But in the world, we lay people preside because it is our task to teach, sanctify and govern the world with the authority and power of Christ.”
The work of the lay people doesn’t happen within the walls of the sanctuary; our work happens when the doors of the Church are opened. We aren’t saying, “Thanks be to God!” at the Mass dismissal because Mass has ended; we are thanking God because He is humbling Himself to allow us to be His hands, lips, and feet to the world.
Have I elevated any human traditions to the Law of God like the Pharisees? Is my life full of “lip service” to God like the Pharisees, or is my faith alive? If my faith is dead, how can I bring it back to life?
Do I need to drink from the rich fount of graces available to me in the sacraments? How can I, regardless of vocation or introversion/extroversion, better live out my mission to be sent out into the world? How can I allow only the things that help me to know, love, and serve God to take root in my heart?
Lord, forgive me for the times I have become a Pharisee. Please help me to discover the daily ways that I can stop living a life of “lip service” and bring my faith to life in seeking out and loving my neighbor.
Copyright 2014 Catherine Boucher