Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time – Mk 7:1-13
In today’s Gospel, Jesus comes openly into conflict with the scribes and Pharisees. This band had come up to Gennesaret from Jerusalem, over 100 miles away, and it seems their sole purpose was to spy on and complain about Jesus. When they question Jesus about why His disciples didn’t follow the traditional hand washings, which were not from Scripture, but rather additions or interpretations made by the rabbis, Jesus responds very bluntly, and we can consider in particular just one instance that Jesus gives of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, that of caring for parents, and how it applies to our lives.
We’ve mentioned how the point of the law was to help the Jews to love God and their neighbors, and yet they distorted it through their oral traditions and additional interpretations. These human precepts refer to the oral laws, or the regulations that the scribes had established as the way that the Old Testament should be lived out in every single moment and aspect of life. This vast collection of oral traditions was finally written down after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD in what’s called the Mishnah, and, to give you an idea, an English edition runs about 800 pages. The problem is that these oral laws take the law away from its original purpose, and instead make human precepts, like hand washing or rules about cleanliness, more important than charity. As Christ puts it, “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” Perhaps the clearest example comes when Jesus cites Moses, who commanded that children honor their mothers and fathers and take care of them. However, following the traditions of the elders, the children could “consecrate” their wealth to the Temple, and be freed from their natural and charitable obligations to their parents. There is clearly something wrong with religious practice (or really any practice, for that matter) when it goes against the law of charity, since nothing that really belongs to God can go against the love of God, namely, charity.
In our lives, too, sometimes we’re faced with our own traditions or ways of doing things. We’d like for everything to go our way, for everything to be the way I want it, for everyone to think the way I do. However, religious life is meant to make me a saint; it’s means conforming myself to Jesus Christ, and not trying to make Jesus Christ and others conform to me.
A great deal of this charity means giving myself to others in the sacrifices I make for their sakes, be that by giving of my time, or even by simply putting up with their human defects and failings. As Saint Therese of Lisieux wrote: “I know now that true charity consists in bearing all of our neighbors’ defects—not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues. Above all I know that charity must not remain shut up in the heart, for ‘No man lights a candle, and puts it in a hidden place, nor under a bushel; but upon a candlestick, that they who come in may see the light.’”
Likewise, this charity means conforming myself, more and more every day, to Jesus Christ, the model of Charity, overcoming not only my sins and failings, but also my human defects. Today, we can ask ourselves how well we are living out charity: are we trying to conform ourselves to Christ Crucified in everything we do? Do we try to live out charity especially with those who are the most difficult to be charitable to?
Let us ask, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Charity, for the grace of a true, living charity in our hearts, so that we might better imitate Christ.