In this Sunday’s Gospel we hear how the Pharisees and some of the scribes came from Jerusalem to gather around Jesus as he went about his teaching. The Pharisees, like all Jews, observed the tradition of the elders and did not eat without carefully washing their hands and purifying themselves on coming from the marketplace. They even purified cups, jugs, kettles and beds and were quick to question Jesus when they saw some of his disciples eating their meals with unwashed hands:
“Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”
“It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture: This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless, the doctrines they teach are only human regulations. You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.”
Jesus draws the attention of the crowd again to underline his message. He says to them:
“Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.”
The message reminds us that we too may have a tendency to give more importance to external gestures, rites and traditions. The instruction of Jesus to the Pharisees illustrates that it is important to pay constant attention to the interiority of the heart and conscience. Jesus warns the Pharisees that in giving greater priority to external cleanliness rather than the internal purity of one’s heart, they are in danger of putting aside the commandments of God altogether.
We are challenged to live according to the commandments in our everyday life. Often there is a human desire to appear better than one is, which can lead to hypocrisy and all the other evil things which come from within. However reflecting on this passage of Scripture we realise that God’s law is totally different from any human law or tradition. It is a commandment of love which is fulfilled during each time we celebrate the Eucharist – where Jesus invites us to come to him, live in his presence, and listen to him.
(P M 2012)