Tuesday, February 12, 2013
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 7,1-13
The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus, and they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, keep the tradition of the elders and never eat without washing their arms as far as the elbow; and on returning from the market place they never eat without first sprinkling themselves. There are also many other observances which have been handed down to them to keep, concerning the washing of cups and pots and bronze dishes. So the Pharisees and scribes asked him, 'Why do your disciples not respect the tradition of the elders but eat their food with unclean hands?'
He answered, 'How rightly Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites in the passage of scripture: This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. Their reverence of me is worthless; the lessons they teach are nothing but human commandments. You put aside the commandment of God to observe human traditions.' And he said to them, 'How ingeniously you get round the commandment of God in order to preserve your own tradition! For Moses said: Honour your father and your mother, and, Anyone who curses father or mother must be put to death. But you say, "If a man says to his father or mother: Anything I have that I might have used to help you is Korban (that is, dedicated to God)," then he is forbidden from that moment to do anything for his father or mother. In this way you make God's word ineffective for the sake of your tradition which you have handed down. And you do many other things like this.'
• The Gospel today speaks about the religious traditions of that time and of the Pharisees who taught this tradition to the people. For example, to eat without washing the hands, as they said, to eat with impure hands. Many of these traditions were separated from life and had lost their significance. But even if this was the state of things, these were traditions kept and taught, either because of fear or because of superstition. The Gospel presents some instructions of Jesus concerning these traditions.
• Mark 7, 1-2: Control of the Pharisees and liberty of the disciples. The Pharisees and some Scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, observed how the disciples of Jesus ate the bread with impure hands. Here there are three points which deserve to be made evident: a) The Scribes were from Jerusalem, from the capital city! This means that they had come to observe and to control what Jesus did. b) The disciples do not wash the hands before eating! This means that being with Jesus impels them to have the courage to transgress the norms which tradition imposed on the people, but that no longer had any sense, any meaning for life. c) The fact of washing the hands, which up until now continues to be an important norm of hygiene, had assumed for them a religious significance which served to control and discriminate persons.
• Mark 7, 3-4: The Tradition of the Ancients. “The Tradition of the Ancients” transmitted norms which had to be observed by the people in order to have the purity asked by the Law. The observance of the law was a very serious aspect for the people of that time. They thought that an impure person could not receive the blessings promised by God to Abraham. The norms on purity were taught in order to open the way to God, source of peace. In reality, instead of being a source of peace, the norms constituted a prison, slavery. For the poor, it was practically impossible to observe the hundreds of norms, of traditions and of laws. For this reason they were considered ignorant and damned persons who did not know the law (Jn 7, 49).
• Mark 7, 5: The Scribes and the Pharisees criticize the behaviour of the disciples of Jesus. The Scribes and Pharisees ask Jesus: Why do your disciples not behave according to the tradition of the Ancients and eat the bread with impure hands? They think that they are interested in knowing the reason for the behaviour of the disciples. In reality, they criticize Jesus because he allows the disciples to transgress the norms of purity. The Pharisees formed a type of confraternity, the principal concern of which was to observe all the laws of purity. The Scribes were responsible for the doctrine. They taught the laws relative to the observance of purity.
• Mark 7, 6-13 Jesus criticizes the incoherence of the Pharisees. Jesus answers quoting Isaiah: This people approaches me only in words, honours me only with lip service, while their hearts are far from me (cf. Is 29, 13). Insisting on the norms of purity, the Pharisees emptied the content of the commandments of God’s Law. Jesus quotes a concrete example. They said: the person, who offers his goods to the Temple, cannot use these goods to help those in greater need. Thus, in the name of tradition they emptied the fourth commandment from its content, which commands to love father and mother. These persons seem to be very observant, but they are so only externally. In their heart, they remain far away from God; as the hymn says: “His name is Jesus Christ and is hungry, and lives out on the sidewalk. And people when they pass by, sometimes do not stop, because they are afraid to arrive late to church!” At the time of Jesus, people, in their wisdom, were not in agreement with everything they were taught. They were hoping that one day the Messiah would come to indicate another way to attain purity. In Jesus this hope becomes a reality.
4) Personal questions
• Do you know any religious tradition today which does not have too much sense, but which continues to be taught?
• The Pharisees were practicing Jews, but their faith was divided, separated from the life of the people. This is why Jesus criticizes them. And today, would Jesus criticize us? In what things?
5) Concluding prayer
Our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the world!
I look up at your heavens, shaped by your fingers,
at the moon and the stars you set firm-
what are human beings that you spare a thought for them,
or the child of Adam that you care for him? (Ps 8,1.3-4)