And the reading returns us to scenes of controversy and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes…
The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus, and they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. For the Pharisees, and the Jews in general, follow the tradition of the elders and never eat without washing their arms as far as the elbow; and on returning from the market place they never eat without first sprinkling themselves. There are also many other observances which have been handed down to them concerning the washing of cups and pots and bronze dishes. So these Pharisees and scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not respect the tradition of the elders but eat their food with unclean hands?’ He answered, ‘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.’ He called the people to him again and said, ‘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 first reading on Sunday affirms in a strong and beautiful way the power and goodness of the Law. The controversy is not about Law, but how human beings can so easily subvert its purpose. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes by mistake.
Human frailty is God’s speciality. When we fail, and however we fail, deliberately or by mistake, his mercy, his help, his love are ours, always.
- Where do you need that love, now.
- Take a moment to ask for it, admitting your need, and confessing God’s love.
Carving of Christ as Law-giver. Christian sarcophagus, Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques. © 2014, Allen Morris