Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Saint James begins by instructing us that “All good giving and every perfect gift is from above.” We don’t make the rules, but God grants us good gifts that we are to share generously with others. He says, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only . . . Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” We are to care for our brothers and sisters in need, and especially for the children, who are often the forgotten little ones.
Jesus further defines what being defiled by the world really means. “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.” Quite a list! Jesus asserts that “All these evils come from within and they defile.” “Not following man-made laws” did not make the list.
It would be easy to wonder why the disciples ate “with unwashed hands,” especially in those times when dust and dirt were plentiful and the disciples worked with their hands as fishermen. But these scriptures are not concerned so much with physical cleanliness as with spiritual cleanliness.
The Pharisees, who were so picky about following every letter of every law, had an “aha” moment in which they saw an opportunity to accuse Jesus and the disciples of breaking the law of Moses. Jesus responds in a very sensible way. He says, “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.”
The same could be said about some of today’s Christians, who are so enamored of the past that they cannot see that Jesus has brought about a new interpretation of tradition. Just as we celebrate birthdays with cake and candles, perhaps now with chocolate cake and tiny candles—whereas in the past it was only white cake and bigger candles—tradition adapts to the times while holding on to the essence of what was celebrated before. Tradition preserves the essence while changing the details, something that some of us may fail to grasp. Such people may want everything to be the same in every detail, and accuse others of failure to worship properly because they do not hold to past practices.
Like the Pharisees, sometimes we want to cling to the way things were done our childhood, never accepting change of any kind. We fail to see the essence of the tradition preserved in a new way of doing things. Perhaps we don’t understand the essence of tradition, or perhaps we are so unsure of ourselves that we want to be instructed strictly in the old ways, like the Pharisees who knew the law by heart and were quite comfortable practicing what poorer people had no way of doing perfectly. It was the poorer people who followed Jesus because he offered them hope.
It would be well for us to remember that the essence of tradition is the worship of God, not the preservation of human habits. We can learn to practice charity and love in emulation of others who have willingly, in following Jesus, held their faith to mean loving their neighbor.
Today’s Readings: Dt 4:1–2, 6–8; Ps 15:2–3, 3–4, 4–5; Jas 1:17–18, 21b–22, 27; Mk 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23
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