Sunday Reflection - 22nd Sunday - Year B

Sunday Reflection - 22nd Sunday - Year B

Posted: Tue, 24 Aug 2021 10:24

Sunday Reflection - 22nd Sunday - Year B

Today we return to the gospel of Mark, after our summer reflection on the 'bread of life' in John's gospel. Last week we saw people leaving Jesus' side because they cannot accept the overwhelming power of the good news. Today we meet Jesus in another conflict situation: his disciples are criticised because they have not washed their hands PROPERLY before a meal. Jesus certainly enjoyed meals and would, I feel subscribe to the wisdom of the great Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti:

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

That enjoyment is being destroyed by these religious officials who see it is their job to devote their attention to the very last letter of the law—how is it possible for any fun? The pharisees see the Law as something that trumped everything: 'For the Pharisees, as well as the rest of the Jews, follow the teaching they received from their ancestors: they do not eat unless they wash their hands in the proper way; nor do they eat anything that comes from the market unless they wash it first. And they follow many other rules which they have received, such as the proper way to wash cups, pots, copper bowls, and beds' (Mk 7:3-4). Everything has to be done in the 'proper way' even to the way that cutlery and dishes are cleansed.

Jesus can see through their hypocrisy, just as we can see through the hypocrisy of Christians in our own times. We all know those 'Christians' who can quote chapter and verse from the Bible, attend prayer groups and like to be noticed in church on a Sunday, yet will willingly lie or throw others under the bus to maintain their facade of righteousness. They do not care who they hurt or what damage is done to relationships and reputations—like the pharisees of old, they must seem to be right always. If you are a fan of BBC's popular soap, 'EastEnders' then you will recognise the flawed character 'Dot Cotton' played by the brilliant June Brown. Jesus can play these hypocrites at their own game: using sacred scripture, he reminds them of what the prophet Isaiah wrote: 'The Lord said, "These people claim to worship me, but their words are meaningless, and their hearts are somewhere else. Their religion is nothing but human rules and traditions, which they have simply memorised' (Isa 29:13).

Rules and regulations are necessary for the functioning of any proper society. Law and order are essential and there are rightful consequences when they are broken However, in the scheme of things, just how serious is a failure to wash hands properly?

I really enjoy the work of the seventeenth century French dramatist, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin—better known as Moliere. His catalogue of work is a testament to the hypocrisy all too prevalent in the Court and Church of his time. His critique of religious hypocrisy is something we can identify with. Times may have changed, but people and morals are strikingly similar to those of Moliere's times and in the time of Jesus. I strongly recommend that you should read at least one of Molière's satires—even it is for a good laugh. In his play 'The Misanthrope' ('The Cantankerous Lover'), we meet Alceste who sees the flaws and failures of all he meets—to be fair, he also recognises his own problems too. This play has been adapted and updated over the centuries, as its themes are eternal. In an English translation of the original we read of those pharisees and hypocrites:

There is nothing I detest so much as the contortions of these great time-and-lip servers, these affable dispensers of meaningless embraces, these obliging utterers of empty words, who view everyone in civilities.

In talking to the pharisees, Jesus reminds us that bad things can come from within us. It is all too easy to blame the disciples for not washing their hands, when we conveniently forget the real-life mistakes that each of us make. Pharisees, modern or ancient, can easily deflect and use the Law to justify their selfish stance. Jesus makes it very clear, 'It is what comes out of you that makes you unclean. For from the inside, from your heart, come the evil ideas which lead you to do immoral things, to rob, kill, commit adultery, be greedy, and do all sorts of evil things; deceit, indecency, jealousy, slander, pride, and folly— all these evil things come from inside you and make you unclean' (Mk 7: 20-23).

In our world, beset by its political problems, genuine attacks on democracy, fake news, and even the hypocrisy seen in the Church, there is a danger that truth can become relative, especially when views are never challenged, when we choose to only use news outlets that exclusively support our narrow point of view. Today is a call to look deeply within ourselves: it is all too easy to point the finger at another. However, as point your finger, you must realise that you have another three pointing back at yourself. Today is a call for true humility and honesty; today is a call for an appreciation of the essential appreciation of the Law: You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.' Then he added, 'The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these (Mk 12:30-31). We are called to show our love of God, especially in the way we treat others and ourselves. If we have learnt anything from the pressures of pandemic, I hope you have learnt the need for quality 'me' time—it is not selfish and is so necessary. As you live this coming week, look for opportunities to care, instead of being the moral police and point your finger. The mystic Thomas Merton reminds us what it is to be a true follower of Christ:

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business, and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbours worthy.

Image ©Helena Yankovska on Unsplash

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