Gospel: Mark 7:1-13
One day, the Pharisees gathered around Jesus, and with them were some teachers of the law who had just come from Jerusalem. They noticed that some of his disciples were eating their meal with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. Now the Pharisees, and in fact all the Jews, never eat without washing their hands, for they follow the tradition received from their ancestors. Nor do they eat anything, when they come from the market, without first washing themselves.
And there are many other traditions they observe; for example, the ritual washing of cups, pots and plates. So the Pharisees and the teachers of the law asked him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders, but eat with unclean hands?” Jesus answered, “You shallow people! How well Isaiah prophesied of you when he wrote: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless, for what they teach are only human rules. You even put aside the commandment of God to hold fast to human tradition.” And Jesus commented, “You have a fine way of disregarding the commandments of God in order to enforce your own traditions! For example, Moses said: Do your duty to your father and your mother, and: Whoever curses his father or his mother is to be put to death. But according to you, someone could say to his father or mother, ‘I already declared Corban (which means “offered to God”) what you could have expected from me.’ In this case, you no longer require him to do anything for his father or mother; and so you nullify the word of God through the tradition you have handed on. And you do many other things like that.”
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”
Sometimes Jesus dispatches his critics with a single ringing reply. At other times, as in this case, we might feel his response could use some editing. Is it disrespectful to acknowledge this? Here would have been a good opportunity for Jesus simply to chastise those who obsess about rules and rituals while ignoring the spirit of the law. They obsess about eating with clean hands (which doesn’t, by the way, seem like such a bad thing), while ignoring the need for clean hearts. But the confusing illustration about someone who says, “I already declared Corban” is not one of his most memorable comebacks. Nor is the rather weak add-on, “And you do many other things like that.” One can only imagine the frustration Jesus endured with so called “teachers of the law” who nitpick and criticize him and his disciples for every technical violation. The church has its own zealous guardians of the law. They complain to the bishop or send reports to Rome about any deviation from the rules or rubrics of worship, while ignoring injustice, or the call for mercy. They teach “human rules,” while ignoring the commandments that truly count: to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. And many other things like that.
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