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, forever and ever. Amen.
2) GOSPEL READING - MARK 7:1-13
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 went on to say, "How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother, and whoever curses father or mother shall die. Yet you say, “If someone says to father or mother, ‘Any support you might have had from me is qorban’ (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things."
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 their 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 traditions were 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, who had come from Jerusalem, observed how the disciples of Jesus ate bread with impure hands. Here there are three points which deserve to be highlighted: a) They 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 their 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 practice of washing 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 against people.
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 required by the Law. The observance of the Law was a very serious matter 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 behavior of Jesus’ disciples. 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 disciples’ behavior. 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 were responsible for the doctrine. They taught the laws relative to the observance of purity.
Mark 7: 6-13 Jesus criticizes the inconsistency of the Pharisees. Jesus answers quoting Isaiah: “This people approaches me only in words, honors 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 of its content, which commands to love father and mother. These people seem to be very observant, but they are only so 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 make 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. Would Jesus criticize us today? For 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)