1.Deuteronomy 4: 1-2
2.James 1:17-18,21-22
3.Mark 7:1-8

There is a story told by William Barclay, the famous Scottish Protestant theologian about an old Jewish rabbi  who was in a Roman prison. He was on a minimal ration of food and water. It was just enough for him to survive. As time passed, the rabbi grew weaker and weaker. Finally it became necessary to call a doctor. The old man's problem was diagnosed as dehydration. The doctor's report confused prison officials.They could not understand how the doctor could be dehydrated although his daily ration of drinking  water was minimal but it was adequate for him.
The guard was told to watch the old man closely to see what he was doing with his water. It was then  that the mystery was solved. The guards discovered that the rabbi was using almost all his water to perform religious ritual washing before he prayed and before he ate. As the result he had little water left to drink.
The story above helps us to understand today's gospel. It helps us to understand  also why the Jewish leaders are surprised when they see Jesus' disciples eat without washing their hands, a thing they are accustomed to do before eating their meal. It is under this background that the Lord takes their criticism to point out what is essential, and this essential is the heart of mortality. The heart of mortality is no other than the heart of a person.

We should note that the disciples of Jesus were not given a guarantee by Jesus to exempted from following the religious custom and tradition of that time, fulfilling the law of Moses. He even told his disciples that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it ( Mt 5:17). When the Jews talk about law they meant two things: The written law, the law of Moses, however, Jews saw this written law as not understandable so they decided to put it into details as the result this gave rise to the second set of laws, the oral traditions. One of them is what we have heard from the gospel, that is ritual cleansing before eating and before praying. The reason behind these oral traditions was good, in order to make religion valuable and moreover to make it to permeate ever action of the day. But later this  oral law began to degenerate into an activity of performing external rituals, this means you please God if you observe the law but you commit sin if you do not observe it.

The practice of observing the law that originated from the law of Moses and traditions was not bad, nevertheless, the point of Jesus with regard to Jewish ritual observance was the attitude of Pharisees  that such formal and merely external actions constituted a person's religiosity. It was worse when these were done for show/ pleasing the audience how pious they were. Jesus challenged the pharisees that it is not the ritual purification of hands, cups kettles, etc, though this is important for sanitary purposes, rather Jesus is emphasizing an interior purification. It is under this background that Jesus quotes prophet Isaiah : These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines mere human precepts," (vv.6-7). It is not the fact that through this ritual of washing hands before eating and praying makes a person clean or unclean. What makes a person unclean comes from within the people, from their hearts. It has been clearly stipulated from the gospel about what comes from the hearts, from the hearts come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy ,blasphemy arrogance, folly, ( vv 21-23). 

We should bear in our minds that going to church on sundays, doing charitable works and so on, is not a guarantee to holiness. What is most important is the animating principle to whatever we do in our lives, that is the heart.
There is an example of the two monks on their way back from missions, they saw a beautiful woman  by the riverbank. She asked if they could help her cross the river so that her clothes would not get wet. The first monk vehemently refused. He said that he had a vow of chastity. The second monk told  her to get on his back and without  saying anything carried her across the river. The two return to the monastery in silence. However after sometime the second monk was summoned by the abbot and asked to explain the incident. The monk replied and carried the sexy woman on his back and then forgot all about it.

The abbot then understood that  the first monk who has not forgotten and even reported the incident to him was the one who has a problem of chastity.

Related Posts:


Chapisha Maoni