February 10, 2015

Gospel MK 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.”
In today’s gospel Jesus reacts with indignation to the hypocrisy of the Jews. He takes them to task for being obsessed with the traditions of their man-made laws regarding cleanliness while at the same time ignoring the virtues of God’s law of charity.
On this same subject in the gospel of Matthew 24:23, Jesus tells the Jews, “You blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel.”
Jesus was frustrated by the Jews failure to understand that unclean hands and eating utensils do not defile us before God. Evil thoughts and deeds are what separate us from the presence of God.
To take it a step further, neither do good deeds nullify our sins. God does not have a scale where he weighs our charity and our sins and one balances out the other. Goodness is its own reward and sin always creates a chasm between the sinner and the Creator.
Our love of neighbor as manifested through our generosity and good deeds are a sweet fragrance to God.
Our repentance, i.e, our sorrow for our sins and desire to start anew are the key that reunites us with God.
Elsewhere in the gospel there is a related theme where Jesus says to the Pharisees, and by extension to each of us, don’t make a display of piety by publicly observing religious rules and traditions so all may see. Instead, perform good deeds privately, “not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing.”
Again in Matthew 6, Jesus reminds the Jews and us:
“Your heavenly Father, who sees in secret will repay you for giving alms….Your heavenly Father who sees in secret will repay you for praying…..Your heavenly Father who sees what is hidden will repay you for your fasting.”
In the very early days of My Brother’s Keeper, while still operating out of our home, an unstamped envelope would “magically” appear in our mailbox each month, never on the same day.
Enclosed was a handwritten message along with a five dollar bill.
“To help with your good works for the Lord. Peace, R.”
The envelope with the same note and offering arrived monthly for over ten years.
Our of respect for the person’s desire for anonymity we never attempted to identify the sender.
We have every faith, however, that our “heavenly Father, who sees in secret” repaid “R” with abundant blessings.