Wednesday, February 12, 2014 (All day)
1) Opening prayer
watch over your family
and keep us safe in your care,
for all our hope is in you.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel reading - Mark 7,14-23
Jesus called the people to him again and said, 'Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into someone from outside can make that person unclean; it is the things that come out of someone that make that person unclean. Anyone who has ears for listening should listen!'
When he had gone into the house, away from the crowd, his disciples questioned him about the parable. He said to them, 'Even you -- don't you understand? Can't you see that nothing that goes into someone from outside can make that person unclean, because it goes not into the heart but into the stomach and passes into the sewer?' (Thus he pronounced all foods clean.)
And he went on, 'It is what comes out of someone that makes that person unclean. For it is from within, from the heart, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a person unclean.'
• The Gospel today is the continuation of the themes on which we meditated yesterday. Jesus helps the people and the disciples to understand better the significance of purity before God. For centuries, the Jews, in order not to contract impurity, observed many norms and customs bound to food, to drink, to the dress, to hygiene of the body, to contact with persons of other races and religions, etc. (Mk 7, 3-4), for them it was forbidden to have contact with pagans and to eat with them. In the years 70’s the time of Mark, some converted Jews said: “Now that we are Christians we have to abandon these ancient customs which separate us from converted pagans!” But others thought that they had to continue with the observance of these laws of purity (cf. Col 2, 16.20-22). The attitude of Jesus, described in today’s Gospel, helps us to overcome this problem.
• Mark 7, 14-16: Jesus opens a new way to try to get people closer to God. He says to the crowds: “Nothing that goes into someone from outside can make that person unclean; it is the things that come out of someone that make that person unclean” (Mk 7, 15). Jesus overturns things: what is impure does not come from outside to the inside, as the Doctors of the law taught, but what comes from inside to the outside. Thus, nobody ever needed to ask himself if this or that food is pure or impure. Jesus places what is pure and impure on another level, not on the level of ethic behaviour. He opens a new way to reach God, and in this way realizes the most profound design of the people. .
• Mark 7, 17-23: In the house, the disciples asked for an explanation. The disciples did not understand well what Jesus wanted to say with that affirmation. When they reached the house, they ask for an explanation. The question of the disciples surprises Jesus. He thought that they had understood the parable. In the explanation to the disciples he goes to the very bottom of the question of impurity. He declares that all food is pure! That is, no food which from outside enters into the human being can make him become impure, because it does not go to the heart, but to the stomach and ends in the septic tank. But what makes one become impure, says Jesus, is what comes out from within the heart to poison human relationships. And then he enumerates some: prostitution, murder, adultery, ambition, theft, etc. Thus in many ways, by means of the word, of the life together, of living close by; Jesus helps persons to attain purity in another way. By means of the word he purified the lepers (Mk 1, 40-44), cast out unclean spirits (Mk 1, 26.39; 3, 15.22 etc), and overcame death which was the source of all impurity. But thanks to Jesus who touches her, the woman excluded and considered impure is cured (Mk 5, 25-34). Without fear of being contaminated, Jesus eats together with persons who were considered impure (Mk 2, 15-17).
• The laws of purity at the time of Jesus. The people of that time were concerned very much about purity. The laws and the norms of purity indicated the necessary conditions to be able to place oneself before God and to feel well in his presence. One could not get before God just in any way, because God is holy. The Law said: “Be holy because I am holy!” (Lv 19, 2). One who was not pure could not get close to God to receive the blessings promised to Abraham. The laws of what was pure and impure (Lv 11 to 16) were written after the time of slavery in Babylonia, toward the year 800 after the Exodus, but had its origin in the ancient mentality and customs of the people of the Bible. A religious and mystical vision of the world led people to appreciate things, the persons and the animals, beginning from the category of purity (Gn 7, 2; Dt 14, 13-21; Nm 12, 10-15; Dt 24, 8-9).
In the context of the Persian domination, the V and IV centuries before Christ, before the difficulties to reconstruct the Temple of Jerusalem and for the survival of the clergy, the priests who governed the people of the Bible increased the laws relative to poverty and obliged the people to offer sacrifices of purification for sin. Thus after child birth (Lv 12, 1-8), menstruation (Lv 15, 19-24) the cure of a haemorrhage (Lv 15, 25-30), women had to offer sacrifices to recover purity. Lepers (Lv 13) or people who had contact with impure things or animals (Lv 5, 1-13) they also had to offer sacrifices. Part of this offering remained for the priests (Lv 5, 13).
At the time of Jesus, to touch a leper, to eat with a tax collector or publican, to eat without washing the hands, and so many other activities, etc. everything rendered the person impure, and any contact with this person contaminated the others. For this reason, it was necessary to avoid “impure” persons. People lived with fear, always threatened by so many impure things which threatened life. They were obliged to live without trust, not trusting any thing or anybody. Now, all of a sudden, everything changes! Through faith in Jesus, it was possible to have purity and to feel well before God without being it necessary to observe all those laws and those norms of the “Ancient Tradition”. It was liberation! The Good News announced by Jesus took away all fear from the people, and they no longer had to be all the time in a defensive situation, and he gives them back the desire to live, and the joy of being children of God, without the fear of being happy!
4) Personal questions
• In your life, are there any traditions which you consider sacred and others which you do not? Which ones? Why?
• In the name of the Tradition of the Ancients, the Pharisees forgot the Commandment of Jesus. Does this also happen today? Where and when? Does it also happen in my life?
5) Concluding prayer
The upright have Yahweh for their Saviour,
their refuge in times of trouble;
Yahweh helps them and rescues them,
he will rescue them from the wicked,
and save them because they take refuge in him. (Ps 37,39-40)