The Gospel reading yesterday, Sunday, the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, returned us to Mark’s Gospel. This, the third Gospel in canonical sequence, but probably the first of the four to be written, is the one most regularly used in the Sunday Lectionary during Year B of the Cycle.
Mark has a keen sense for the ministry of Jesus in freeing people from oppression, both that which comes from within and from without.
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 Gospel is proclaimed to us to set us free from these potential corruptions, and to help us in our turn be ministers of mercy.
In his letter establishing the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis reminded (as did St James in the second reading yesterday) of the works of corporal mercy.
It is not enough for Christians to be free of sin, we are made and called to the good:
Let us rediscover the corporal works of mercy: to feed the
hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the
stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead….
We cannot escape the Lord’s words to us, and they will serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged: whether we have fed the hungry and given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked, or spent time with the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-45).
Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 15
The washing of feet. Grantham Parish Church. (C) 2011, Allen Morris.