HIS Word or our words- Tuesday, 5th Week in ordinary time- Mark 7: 1-13
As a Catholic priest I have a huge issue with human traditions hijacking God’s commandments. There are just too many human traditions that have invaded our faith making much of our faith, more man and less God. In India we call these traditions ‘parampara’ and they are ‘religiously’ linked even to Christian life making the tradition more sacred than the law.
What evidently ails the times we live in was also an issue for time in which Jesus lived. Make no mistake, He did not come to “destroy the Law and the Prophets”, a false charge brought against Him; He simply came to fulfil them. At no time of His earthly life did Jesus come to ‘fulfil the traditions’ which had become the swan song of the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus rejected the Pharisaic traditions surrounding the law’s observance and the substitution of human teaching for divine commandments. The Pharisees were merely using the law as a way to escape from one’s obligations.
So Jesus takes on the ’traditionalist’ head on and ensures that His argument is logical. It is interesting to note that when one does not have a case to make, one often has no other choice but to pick on incidentals around the case. And so we are told that “Some of His Disciples were eating with defiled hands”. The fact was that great crowds ( in their thousands ) followed Jesus as His disciples, yet while most did follow the ‘traditions’ the Pharisees could only see ‘some’ who did not; their myopic agenda was clear. Their question was really meant to be a veiled critique of Jesus’ teaching since it was the duty of the master to train his disciples and evidently for them, He had failed.
Principally, this ‘hand washing’ was part of the ceremonial practices of the Pharisees (verses 3-4) and was merely a part of the ‘oral law’ (not the written commandments) which included among other things the washing of cups, and various vessels. It was the Rabbis who developed these traditions and linked them back to Moses thus justifying the imposition of these traditions on the people. Furthermore this tradition of hand washing was a ritual performed by the priests in the Old Testament but was later imposed on all of Israel.
But the greatest charge that Jesus brings against the Pharisees, whom he calls hypocrites (meaning an actor whose face is hidden behind a mask), is the charge of abandoning and rejecting the commandments of God to hold and keep human tradition. In their greed for money they twisted the divine commandment which demanded the honour of father and mother, in favour of the human instructions of the scribes who permitted a man to declare his money as ‘korban’ or gift to God, thus exonerating the son from any financial duty to his aging parents. They mascaraed behind a pious behaviour to circumvent religious obligations.
I do believe that the time has come for all Christians, even us in the Catholic Church to examine closely the many human traditions that have been brought into both, the sacred and cultural consciousness of a Catholic and measure them against the words of sacred scripture.
Religion, like a river is pure at its source, until man begins to throw his garbage inside.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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