There is a wise person of prayer who once wrote these words: “When I was young, I was a revolutionary. My prayer to God was: ‘Lord, give me the energy to change the world.’ As I approached middle age and realized that my life was half-gone without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me. Just my family and friends, and I shall be satisfied.’ Now that I am old and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this from the start, I would not have wasted my life.” Wise words! They point to the simple truth that no one of us can change another person. The only person we can change is ourselves. When we learn that lesson well, we begin to realize that pointing fingers at the behaviour of others is an exercise in futility because it prevents us from pointing our fingers at the one person that we have a right to criticize — ourselves. We love to point fingers at each other and notice what everyone else is doing wrong. We are pretty Olympic at it ourselves. We nit-pick everyone else’s behaviour to death. And don’t we love to boast when we are proven right, and they are proven wrong? The Pharisees and the scribes in today’s Gospel are doing just that — they are nit-picking the disciples’ actions. They are finding fault with what they do.
In the Gospel, Jesus describes true religion as serving God and all His children with a pure and holy heart. The Gospel explains the encounter of Jesus with the Sanhedrin observers and the Pharisees who had been sent to assess Jesus’ unique teachings. These experts had found Jesus’ teachings an open violation of the “Traditions of the Elders,” or against the Jewish Law, and judged Jesus’ implied and spoken claims blasphemous. They also noticed that His disciples leave out the required ritual washing before meals. In the fifth century BC, the scribes started adding oral traditions as interpretations and practical applications of the Mosaic Law. The Pharisees observed them and insisted that all the Jews should do so. The primary reason was to sanctify the daily lives of the people, making them “holy as God is holy” (“You are a priestly kingdom, a holy nation,” we read it in Ex 19:6), and different in lifestyle from their pagan neighbours.
However, Jesus uses the occasion as a teachable moment, and he speaks very directly and very vigorously. He doesn’t pull any punch. He calls them Hypocrites, powerful language coming from Jesus. And He not only does he calls the Pharisees hypocrites, but He gives concrete examples of their hypocrisy. Jesus says you have put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions. In other words, your philosophy is to obedience to man rather than obedience to God first. Jesus gives them the following lessons:
- External piety without internal holiness is hypocrisy.
- The doctrines teach human regulations and don’t teach human doctrines as dogmas of Faith.
- Sincerity of heart, purity, and holiness are more important than mere external ritual observances.
- The observance of traditions and washing rituals does not correct the internal motivations and inclinations that defile people.
Let us ask ourselves, how often has Jesus referred to us as hypocrites and white-washed sepulchres? We may pretend to be doing God’s will in our lives, but we are not doing our own will in our lives. We rattle through our Father, and we say Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We say those words, but we don’t really mean them, and we certainly don’t live them. We are living human traditions, human rules, and regulations, but not God’s. So let us pray that our rituals, prayers, sacraments, and religious practices help us practice this true religion in our daily lives.
Fr. Rayison Pallichamkudiyil Jose Sch. P.
Sunday, August 29, 2021 | 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 7:1-8. 14-15. 21-23: You set aside the commandment of God to hold to the tradition of men.
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 summoned the crowd again and said to them, “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.“ From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
RAYISON PALLICHAMKUDIYIL JOSE
Was born in India. He is a Formator and worked as an Associate Pastor at St. Jerome Catholic Church, Phoenix, United States. At present, he is the Rector and Formator of Aspirants in Calasanz Bhavan, Aroor, India.