Homily for the twenty-second Sunday of the year - Year B - Mk. 7:1...23


by

Father Daniel Meynen
 
 

"Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, 'Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?' And he said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.'


"And he called the people to him again, and said to them, 'Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.... What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.' "





Homily:


"Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. (...) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, 'Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?' And he said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.' "


Jesus is the Son of God become Man through his Incarnation in the womb of the Most Holy Virgin Mary. In Christ, God lives among men in order to invite them to take part in his own divine life. This is the good news which we Christians have proclaimed throughout the whole world for about two thousand years! This is the marvel that the Lord has accomplished in us since the day of Pentecost, thanks to the gift of his Holy Spirit!


But this news, this "newness" disturbs us: it upsets what we have become accustomed to! For the invasion of earth by Heaven, if one may put it that way, is truly disturbing! Our small minds are not able to conceive of such an event, for they lack a special light, the light which the obedience of Adam, the first man, could have merited for him if he had in fact obeyed the command of God in the garden of Eden... We cannot hide this fact: Heaven disturbs us!


So it is not surprising that the Pharisees and the scribes of the time of Jesus criticized the disciples of the Master for not observing their traditions: the new way of doing things which Jesus teaches is greatly disturbing! Now, it is important to understand why the new way taught by Jesus is disturbing. Indeed, Christ did not come to abolish the old Law: he came to fulfil it and to give it perfection. "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them." (Mt 5:17)


This perfection of the Law consists in harmonizing the body and the soul, outward observances and interior worship. So, even if we Christians no longer observe the ordinances and customs of the old Law, we do not observe the new Law without accompanying our interior worship with outward and material practices, such as, for example, those we carry out periodically in liturgical worship. In particular - and this is something which comes directly from Jewish Tradition - we break the bread during each Eucharistic celebration, in order to express with an external sign our spiritual offering, which is united to the unique Sacrifice of Christ.


It is important for us to associate interior worship and the outward practices of religion with each other: both are essential for our faith to be in perfect harmony. It is not uncommon, nowadays, to meet people who claim to be Christians and believers, but who do not want to go to church to worship the Lord each Sunday in community. These Christians perhaps do want to go to Heaven one day, if they ever think about it at all, but to appear in public and to pray with others on Sunday, that is something they do not want: truly, that disturbs them! Would these people not be the new Pharisees, those of the year 2000?


"And he called the people to him again, and said to them, 'Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.... What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.' "


Jesus teaches the crowd and warns it about all kinds of vices and sins. For it is useless to want to appear pure and irreproachable to others if we are full of malice and spite on the inside. Even if we convince ourselves that we are pure on the inside, God sees us as we are, with all the ugliness of the evil and sin that is in us. There is no alternative: it is absolutely necessary to harmonize our inside and our outside. If we live our faith publicly - and we must do so - it is necessary for us to humbly ask God for forgiveness for our sins, in order to be pure on the inside and to appear to be so on the outside. If we say to the Lord that we believe in him and that we truly love him, then we must testify to our devotion to Christ by faithfully and publicly practicing our religion.


Perfect balance between outward practice and interior worship is not always easy to achieve. In fact, there is almost always a compromise between one and the other involved. For, on one hand, there are situations and circumstances in which it can be dangerous and inopportune to express one's faith in public: for a certain amount of time, we may have to satisfy ourselves with giving thanks to the Lord in the intimacy of our heart. On the other hand, we are so weak and so inclined to sin that we are never perfectly pure and free from evil, even if we do all we can to approach perfection: only the Lord is perfect and it is only in him that, outwardly, we can appear, without fear, before the eyes of the world as the members of his Body.


Soon we will break the Bread of Life during this celebration. It will be the moment for us to express all of our faith in the salvific power of Christ: all together, with one heart, with one soul, let us offer ourselves to the Lord in order to manifest his Glory in all of our life, a life that is holy and pure, in both body and spirit! Let us cast our eyes towards Mary, the Mother of Jesus! Let us ask her to help us change our life! Nothing is impossible for God! Nothing is impossible with the help of Mary's prayer!



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