August 30, 2015
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
1 Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. 3 (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. 4 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.)
5 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?" 6 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; 7 In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.' 8 You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition."
14 He summoned the crowd again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand. 15 Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile." 21 From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. 23 All these evils come from within and they defile."
For several weeks the gospel texts have been taken from the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. With the 22nd week in ordinary time, the lectionary begins to draw on the Gospel of Mark for its gospel texts again. The last time Mark’s gospel was used, the disciples had just returned from their missionary journeys; Jesus had taken them by boat away from the crowds; the people had discovered the place where the disciples were coming ashore; and the crowds were waiting for the disciples. (Mark 5:30-34 – 16th Week in Ordinary Time.) Mark then records several events: the feeding of the five thousand; Jesus (but not Peter) walking on water; and Jesus’ arrival at Gennesaret where the people immediately recognized him and “…scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick… and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.” (Mark 6:56)
The first part of this week’s text focuses on a conflict between the religious authorities of the day and Jesus. The Pharisees and the scribes are said to be “from Jerusalem.” This would carry the same kind of symbolic weight as if today one might say they were “from the Vatican” or “from Washington.” They represent a much higher official level of authority than they would as individuals. The issue is that the disciples have not observed a ritual of hand washing that the Pharisees promoted as part the 613 unwritten precepts that they believed all faithful Jews should observe. But even at the time of Jesus there was an awareness that adherence to all 613 precepts was possible for only a very elite group. In response to this reality, a more practical tradition was observed that was more in keeping with the reality of peasant life, and with the daily life of those who lived in more remote areas, people who lives brought them into regular contact with things that rendered a person ritually unclean.
The Pharisees and scribes in this gospel are holding Jesus responsible for the behavior of his followers. They are indirectly questioning his reputation because he did not insist on the ritual purity that they believed every devout Jew should observe. This attempt to publicly shame or embarrass him was meant to weaken Jesus’ status in the community and reestablish their own authority. Mark recounts in the verses prior to this text that, given Jesus’ popularity with the people, the Pharisees have reason to be concerned about Jesus.
In response to their objections, Jesus insults them, quotes from scripture, and then changes the topic. Jesus calls them hypocrites, which literally means “those whose faces are hidden behind masks.” They quote from the scriptures, but the scriptures are not the source from which they live their lives. Rather they hide behind the purity laws to insult those who threaten their authority. They are like so many previous leaders who are more concerned with external public purity than hearts that are pure in their devotion to God. He quotes the ancient and respected prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 29:31) to support his position. Jesus then summons the crowd and teaches them as he draws on the image of being “unclean.” In doing so he has changed the topic from “the way to maintain ritual purity” to “what leads to impurity.” These are much different questions. He states that what makes a person unclean comes from within a person. Listing a series of recognized vices, Jesus says defilement begins from within the person and manifests itself in behavior. These are the things that make one unclean, not what one eats or whether or not they have washed their hands.
1. Do you ever get tired of arguing? Do you think Jesus ever got tired of verbal sparring with the Pharisees and scribes?
2. How do you feel about conflict in your own life?
3. Have you ever been openly criticized for your behavior?
4. Are there people within your local community for whom keeping all the “traditions of the church” might be more of a burden than an aid to holiness?
5. How do you respond to people and groups who seem to challenge traditions that you personally hold very dear?
6. What might be some of the positive values that motivated the Pharisees to confront Jesus? What were some of the negative values?
7. What are some of the customs or practices that we have as Catholics that help develop a Catholic consciousness among us?
8. Have you stopped doing any of the religious or devotional practices that were very important to you at an early stage of your life? Why? What effect has that had on your relationship with God?
9. How do you respond to people who insist on the importance of religious practices that you do not find meaningful or helpful?
10. Do you experience a tension between what you feel you are called to as a Catholic and your own relationship with God? How do you deal with that tension?
11. What do you hear God saying to you in this reading?
Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel. To be added to the distribution list, send your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org
A Spanish translation of the reflection questions is made possible by Fernando Alessandrini. If you wish to receive the Spanish translation please contact Fernando at email@example.com.
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