Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, AUGUST 31 Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15; James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 OUR GOOD NEWS: Real versus phony religion. Highly esteemed for their devotion and piety, "Pharisees" belonged to a religious party insisting on strict observance of regulations governing Jewish behavior. In today’s Gospel passage, some of these joined with certain "teachers of the law" — Pharisees qualified by training and experience to interpret and apply Old Testament Mosaic law, as well as extensive additional regulations added over the years ("traditions of the ancestors"). These "had come down from Jerusalem," delegated by Judaism’s central leadership to check out Jesus’ teaching and practice. These acknowledged religious experts heard Jesus’ momentous proclamation that Israel’s hopes were at last being fulfilled. Moreover, they witnessed miracles authenticating this astounding claim. And yet, they missed the message entirely! "They observed a few disciples eating with unwashed hands"! Strictly speaking, "washing of hands" before eating obliged only priests. Like ceremonial purification of utensils and "sprinkling of food," such actions were not primarily hygienic precaution but religious ritual. "Unclean" signified secular — not sacred, not set apart for God. Food must be "de-secularized" before preparation and consumption. Such practices were originally intended to remind the Chosen People of their call, "set apart, a holy and consecrated people" with values and life-style consciously different from that of pagans. (So, too, Christians: in today’s second reading. James exhorts us "to keep oneself unspotted by the world.") Jesus refuted these hypocritical blind guides with a quotation from Isaiah — "This people pays me lip service but their heart is far from me. Empty is the reverence they do me because they teach as dogmas mere human precepts." He then turned to instruct "the crowd," those willing to hear. Jesus flatly denied that external things or circumstances can separate a person from God. By insisting that uncleanness comes from violations of the moral law rather than of minute ritual prescriptions, Jesus did more than correct legalistic excess. He denied a basic principle of Jewish religion and set aside a considerable amount of Mosaic law. "Nothing that enters a man from outside can make him impure; that which comes out of him, and only that, constitutes impurity." This teaching explains why Christians, who claim to be the renewed Chosen People, are not bound by dietary and other similar Old Testament regulations. In illustration of what really makes a person sinful and alienated from God, a list of sins followed that divides into two groups. The first six nouns are in the plural, indicating evil acts: practices of sexual immorality, thefts, murders, adulteries, acts of coveting or lust ("greed"), concluding with wickedness in general ("maliciousness"). Then, six vices, attitudes or qualities of character, sins of the heart that may or may not surface in overt evil actions: deceit (lying), wantonness (shamelessness, immodesty), jealousy or envy, slander (imputing evil in others), pride (arrogance), folly (stupidity of one lacking moral judgment). Here’s a handy checklist recommended for our consideration and renewal!

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