(Jesus said to the crowd), “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile…” Mark 7:14-15.
Words highlighted in red are links to supporting material.
How many times, I wonder, have we heard someone say “Do what I say, not what I do”? All of us must have a pretty good, basic idea of how we are to act in daily life to embody what we believe to be right and true. This could go from holding the door open for another person to assisting someone being assaulted verbally or even physically for no good apparent reason. We all of us know in our heart of hearts what each situation calls for in Christian terms, but the question, as always, is, do we? Cowardice, fear, reluctance, any number of reasons could stop us from doing what is right. Yet it is in just such situations that the Christian lion is separated from the Christian lamb. I suspect saintly courage and strength are quite rare in real life and perhaps that is what the Lord is highlighting today. The world needs strong saints!
The actual situation which prompted today’s words from the Savior needs a little explaining. Much attention is paid to cleanliness here, that hands are to be washed, pots and pans to be scrubbed, and so on. Nothing new there; this is done on a daily basis in just about every household in the land! So isn’t that why those not doing that are being condemned in today’s gospel? The answer is no, but that needs some explanation. We clean everything today because we know if we do not, sickness might be the result. The ancient Jews had ritual cleaning because it was part of the Law, part of Scripture. There was no concept back then of removal of germs and infections from hands and things we touch to render them sterile. So those not cleaning their hands were condemned for not following the Law, not for endangering themselves and others by not washing. We know now there is a second reason to clean things. They did not. It explains Jesus’ frustration that people were being judged just and true because they fulfilled all the external commands of the law, yet inside, who knows? It could all be a giant cover-up for evil. It is what happens within our hearts and minds that Jesus was concerned with: that’s where the truth lay. The first reading from Deuteronomy, namely, the Law, lays down the understanding necessary to be righteous in the eyes of God. From it one can draw wisdom and intelligence. The Law is, as it were, a gift from God, an outside reality to be accepted by the individual and incorporated into daily living. James’ letter, on the other hand, mentions that we are each born into the word of truth, that God’s will is, as it were, within us already at birth (this might be part of the origin of the Catholic belief that we are born oriented to the good, not to evil). So there is a natural receptor deep within each of us which can recognize the truth of God’s Law from without, accept it and incorporate it into daily living. In other words, we should lead the righteous and true life of God’s adopted child. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only” James says. In that way we know, deep inside, what we must do, for example, when confronted with the reality of widows and orphans, and avoid what the world might say, contradicting God’s Law or which, contrary to our own inclination, is evil and wrong. We all know, deep inside, what must be done in almost all situations calling for a moral judgment. That is where we face a stark choice of good or bad. At such times we beg God’s strength and guidance, and the courage to act as God’s good child.
Catholic Care for Children International, Nairobi, Kenya, February 2021.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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