Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on August 30, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: After our weeks of detour into the gospel of John, we have returned to our cycle of Sunday readings from the gospel of Mark. In the passage the Church gives us today, we have an example of religious authorities placing moral value on a hygienic practice and condemning Jesus’ disciples as religiously unclean for their failure to adhere to practices which have their origins among human beings.

Such customs, of course, abound in religious practice. Born in the tradition of human cultures, practiced widely among adherents to a tradition, and eventually codified in religious legislation, such norms often become a way to distinguish “true believers” from those deemed less faithful. The Catholic tradition, like any faith, has many such practices: for instance, Catholics abstaining from meat on Friday in Lent and the hour’s fast before Holy Communion are two traditions which can be spiritually meaningful but don’t per se make a true believer.

Jesus taught that outward appearances and inward dispositions need to match each other. In other passages in the gospels, he addresses the hypocrisy of believers who put on outward shows of respectability and even holiness while they inwardly lack love and integrity. Here in this passage, Jesus does something similar, if opposite: Jesus calls the scribes and pharisees on their attempt to make breaches of custom into sins. What defiles a human being is not the breach of custom: what defiles a person is the evil that comes from our hearts.

Christ calls out to us to live authentic lives. For Jesus, what’s important, is what comes from the heart. Jesus doesn’t sweat the minutia; Jesus cares about the deep down things, about the things that go on where we really live.

Eucharist 3Spiritual reading: Now when we have received our Lord (in the Eucharist) and have him in our body, let us not then let him alone and get us forth about other things . . . but let all our business be about him. Let us by devout prayer talk to him, by devout meditation talk with him. (Saint Thomas More)

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