22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)


22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B) Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23                                                              September 02 , 2018

“This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts”.

A large group of people were seated at the main plaza ready to start the patriotic celebration of Independence Day, and when the master of ceremony directed the crowd to stand up for singing the national anthem, a young man remained seated. Somebody in the gathering asked him not to be disrespectful and to get up. The youth looked at him, did not say a word but remained seated. At the end of the singing the boy´s girlfriend told that person that her boyfriend had had a bad accident and he did not mean to be disrespectful. Not only the demanding person, but everybody around him learned a lesson: external actions do not necessarily indicate what is inside of the heart.

This is exactly what the fanatic Pharisees had to learn, as they and we hear in the Gospel today. They were full of righteous indignation as “They observed that some of Jesus´ disciples ate at their meals with unclean, that is unwashed, hands (…) 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?´” They were concern, not because of hygiene reasons but because they were too much attached to the letter of the law.

Jesus does not answer the why, but instead he calls them hypocrites, for not observing the internal dispositions of the heart which are more important than external observances of the law like washing hands before eating, purifying cups and jugs, and all kind of objects at home. Then he applies to them what is written in the prophet Isaiah, “This people pay me lip service, but their hearts are far from me.” The youth who had both legs broken, could not stand up for the national anthem but he had in his heart a feeling of pride for his nation and its patriotic history.

Law in society has a very positive function in the way it handles our human relations with justice and respect. Human relations without law would be a chaotic situation. But the law is created to serve human beings and not vice versa. Human life with too much law makes people slave rather than free. Our readings today underline the positive and negative characteristics of religious law, and so, give us a balanced approach to it.

In the Book of Deuteronomy we hear today the solemn prayer “Shema Israel” (“Hear, Israel”), “Hear, Israel, the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live (…) Observe them carefully, for thus will give you evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations.” While a positive value, the law is given as a gift of God to us.

Nevertheless, law should be rooted in the love of God and the love for neighbor, and be an expression of the most important of our common relations, which is love. The Jew at the time of Jesus were lost in so many legalist prescriptions to the point that law oftentimes was more important than faith and even more important than the greatest law: love of God and neighbor.

While we hear Jesus calling the Pharisees and their actions hypocrites, we do not want to make the same mistake; we better ask and answer ourselves: What counts is, only what I do, or what is inside me? Does the faith I express in the Sunday liturgy enlighten my life in the way I associate with my family and community during the week? External actions of themselves without faith do not make me holy any more than a sticker on the front door of my house or my car do not make me holy. Some people have a bumper sticker that reads, “Drive carefully” but it does not help them to drive carefully at all. So coherent should be our Christian faith and life.

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