Deut 4:1-2,6-8; Jas 1:17-18,21-22,27; Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
William Barclay, the famous Scottish Protestant theologian, tells the story about an old Jewish rabbi who was in a Roman prison. He was on a minimal ration of food and water. It was just enough for him to survive.
As time passed, the rabbi grew weaker and weaker. Finally, it became necessary to call a doctor. The old man’s problem was diagnosed as dehydration. The doctor’s report confused prison officials. They could not understand how the rabbi could be dehydrated. Although his daily ration of drinking water was minimal but it was adequate for him.
The guard was told to watch the old man closely to see what he was doing with his water. It was then that they mystery was solved. The guards discovered that the rabbi was using almost all his water to perform religious ritual washings before he prayed and before he ate. As a result, he had little water left to drink.
This story helps us to understand today’s gospel. It helps us to understand also why the Jewish leaders are surprised when they see Jesus’ disciples eat without performing the ritual of washing which they are accustomed to do before eating their meal. And so the Lord takes their criticism to point out what is essential and this essential is the heart of morality. The heart of morality is no other than the heart of a person.
But before anything else, Jesus does not exempt His disciples from fulfilling the Law of Moses. He even told His disciples that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mt 5:17). When Jews talk about ‘the Law,’ they mean two things: the written law and the oral law. The written law, the more important one, is set down in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) and sometimes called the Law of Moses. For a long time, the Jews were content with this written law and they applied this into their live as they saw as important.
But the scribes saw this written law as too vague to understand and should be put in details and so this gave rise to the second set of laws, the oral laws or oral traditions. One of them is ritual cleansing before eating and before praying. The reason behind these oral traditions was good, in order to make religion permeate every action of the day. But slowly this oral law began to degenerate into an activity of performing external rituals. You please God if you’re the law but you commit sin if you do not observe.
The pious practices per se, were not bad. What Christ opposed was the attitude of Pharisees that such formal and merely external actions constituted a person’s religiosity. It is worse when these were done for display or to show to the people how pious they were. In other words the real intent of the law has been lost for the sake of merely keeping the ritual. Jesus challenges them that it is not the ritual purification of hands, cups, kettles, etc., although this is important also for sanitary purposes, a person is guaranteed an interior purification. Rather, it is not through this ritual that makes this person clean or unclean. But rather, what I had said awhile ago that the heart of morality is no other than the heart of a person. That is why Jesus says to the Pharisees by quoting Isaiah’s prophecy: “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines mere human precepts,” (vv. 6-7).
It is not through this ritual of washing hands before eating and praying that makes a person clean or unclean. Eating with hands that have not been washed cannot make a person unclean. What makes the person unclean comes from within the people, from their hearts. And from their hearts come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly, (vv. 21-23). Maybe the question that we should ask ourselves is this: “Ano ba ‘yang sinasabi o ginagawa mo nagmula ba ‘yan sa iyong puso o sa iyong nguso?”
Fr. Jerry Orbos, SVD, in his homily, also asked: “De lata ba ang puso mo? (Do you have a canned heart?). A canned heart is a closed heart where no one goes in and no love goes out. It doesn’t get heart. It is a well-preserved heart with lots of preservatives! Inside a canned heart, there are no disturbances, no crises, no life and no love. How do you know if you have a canned heart? You shut out God from your heart. You hold back your heart-your love from others. You are filled with hatred, guilt, hurts, pride and other filth. What you need is a can opener – abre lata – to open your heart. God is the abre lata of all hearts. Allow Him to open your heart.
How does this apply to us? This gospel reading says to us that we must not identify our religion or being religious with just performing external acts like: going to church on Sundays and attend Mass, saying prayers, reading the Bible or giving to charity because these do not guarantee us holiness. What is the most important is the love in our hearts that motivates us to what do what we do. We go to Mass and we pray to God because we love Him so much. We give charity to those in need because we love them. If our hearts is filled with bitterness and pride, then all these external acts won’t make us holy before God and enter His Kingdom.
At the end allow me to tell this anecdote in order for us to reflect more. There were two monks who were of the monastery on an errand. On their way back, they saw a beautiful woman by the riverbank. She asked if they could help her cross the river so her clothes would not get wet. The first monk vehemently refused. He said that he had a vow of chastity and had not touched a woman. The second monk told her to get on his back and without saying anything carried her across the river.
The two return to the monastery in silence. But after sometime, the second monk was summoned by the abbot and asked to explain the ‘indecent’ incident. The monk replied that he indeed carried the sexy woman on his back and then forgot all about it.
The abbot there then understood that the first monk who has not forgotten and even reported the incident to him was the one who has a problem of chastity. Sinungaling ang kanyang puso. Salawahan ang kanyang puso.
Today’s Readings: Cycle B