•Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8; James 1: 17-8, 21-22, 27; Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23•
Weekly Scripture Readings:22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The three faith traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all share a common search to know and live in harmony with the Gracious Mystery we name God. Each tradition considers the will of God to be the ultimate guide for our living. Eventually in their quest to live in harmony with God and in response to particular situations or needs, each of these three traditions, developed and imposed strict rules, laws and regulations upon the members of their communities.
Jewish people adopted rituals of diet and hand-washing as health precautions during the desert years. Eventually such practical rules became ritual observances and the Ten Commandments became 613 commandments.
The Religious Women who taught and guided me in my grade school years were Ursuline. The rules and regulations of theircommunity did not allow them to visit homes. That rule probably dated back to 16th century France during the time of Plague. It was typical of so many rules in the Pre-Council Church. Remember the Eucharistic fast or Friday abstinence?
For the people of Islam a contentious issue is “sharia.” This Islamic legal system deals with many topics, including etiquette, diet and fasting. It includes harsh punishments to be imposed on those who violate the laws.
According to Mark, it was in such an atmosphere that Jesus lived. Teachers of the Law surrounded him. They were scrupulous observers of their traditions. They “resisted this prophet of love who wants to bring something new into their lives.” Apparently with anger they ask, “why do your disciples not follow the traditions of the elders?”
We are still living in an atmosphere of rules and regulations in spite of the renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council. John Paul II and Benedict reversed that vision confusing many. Several weeks ago I had dinner with some out of town visitors. They are good people and deeply sincere about their faith. Our conversation told me they were stuck in yesterday. There has been little or no growth or development in their understanding of the gospel or of Christ.
“The kingdom of God” proclaimed by Jesus – “God’s new reality” of justice love and peace is either foreign to or still resisted by so many. Recently that became visible in reactions to the teaching of Francis in his encyclical on climate change. We see that resistance even among many of the hierarchy. They cling to the vision imposed on them by John Paul II.
What ought to concern us is not preserving the past intact. Our task is to make possible the birth of a church and of Christian communities able to live the gospel faithfully. In doing so we enable “the kingdom of God” to become a reality in contemporary society.
For us as for our Jewish and Islamic brothers and sisters, the core of our faith is the same — conform my own will to the will of God. Jesus of Nazareth is our model of what that means.
This gospel text is complex. It does not extend an invitation for us to freely pick and choose what law, rule, regulation or doctrine is binding upon us. It is not that simple. “Jesus called the crowd to himself and said, ‘listen to me everyone’.” Then he spoke to them about what is on the inside, what is deep within our heart where our most true self lives. Jesus obeyed God’s will freely from within. He is our model.
Obedience is a mature stage of development. If climate change is the result of our life style and as dangerous as scientists indicate, no law or regulation can tell us the right thing to do. When our hearts are like Christ’s, we will do it. Protecting people from gun violence or providing health care for other human beings ought not require laws or regulations. When our hearts are like Christ’s, we not only recognize what is the loving thing for us to do — we do it!