A Reflection on the Reading for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Responsorial Psalm:: 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
Reading II: James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
There’s one part I really despise in movies, usually in dramas. It’s when the character allows envy to consume him. I get this awful feeling in my stomach and can’t help but think, “Oh no, here we go again.” I know it means disaster and/or tragedy is coming.
In today’s Gospel reading, the disciples and Jesus are eating a meal together. I like to imagine them laughing after Jesus telling a joke, and I can almost hear the conversations buzzing and overlapping each other. Just like a family dinner. There is a silent pause after Jesus reveals something beautiful about the Father or tells a parable that we aren’t privy to from our readings in the Bible. And while the disciples ponder what the Kingdom of God is like, here come the ultimate party poopers, the Pharisees and scribes. Again.
This time they come to deliver a stern observation; your disciples do not wash their hands before eating.
Okay, that’s not exactly what they said. They asked Jesus why his disciples did not perform the ritual cleansing that the elders performed before eating their meals. In the footnote of the New American Bible for Mark 7:5, the tradition of the elders is defined as “the body of detailed, unwritten, human laws regarded by the scribes and Pharisees to have the same binding force as that of the Mosaic law.”
The tradition of the elders is not on par with God’s law, by any means; these are human laws. And the Pharisees and scribes chose to place these human laws on the same pedestal as God’s laws. How or why did they do this? Honestly, I get it; it almost seems like a checklist. Do this, this, and this, and I’ll be considered good in the eyes of God. And it seems like the easy way to live your life, so to speak. But this cleansing is only skin-deep. It doesn’t cleanse the soul. Jesus seems to be pointing out that very fact when he says, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile.”
But the Pharisees were not truly concerned with the disciples’ breaking of the tradition. I believe that what was really motivating them was envy. Satan’s envy of Adam and Eve motivated his temptation of them to disobey God.
Pride seems to be a familiar failing of ours as humans, and it’s often preceded by envy…that awful thing which Satan used to inspire Adam and Eve to disobey God. Satan fostered that seed of envy – and they acted on the motive to have what God possessed and who God is. They wanted to be like Him. Of course, disaster and tragedy followed – the great fall.
And the Pharisees here are so indignant that Jesus ignores the tradition of the elders, and instead focuses on religion that is “pure and undefiled…to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” How dare he, they must have thought. Ignoring our tradition as if it’s not true religion? Again, their envy and pride led to so many conflicts between Jesus and them…all the way until his death.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but I see myself in the Pharisees and scribes. I don’t subscribe to the tradition of the elders, but I do use other sins to create my own “tradition.” At times I choose my own way, my own comfort, instead of His way. I place my way up on that pedestal, in place of the true way.
My prayer for myself and for you is that we allow Jesus to confront and drive out sin in our lives, the way he went head-to-head with the scribes and Pharisees throughout His earthly life. May He lead us away from the things within ourselves, the “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.” Until the last day of our journey.
Author: Katy Mauer Cabrera