Not what your eating but what’s eating you – Wednesday, 5th week in ordinary time – Mark 7:14-23
After this episode of today’s Gospel, Jesus will leave the Jewish area and make his way into Gentile territory. The significance of this movement and its message was not lost on the community of St Mark who were predominantly Gentiles. Mark deliberately highlights this trip of Jesus to reassure his listeners that Jesus came for all and not only for the Jews.
To the Gentile Christians of Mark’s time, many of the Jewish traditions were alien. It is for this reason that in the passage of today’s Gospel, St Mark will go to great pains to explain the traditions of the Jews but also to show them that Jesus transcended human tradition in favour of the human person.
At the heart of the argument in today’s Gospel is the spill over of the question raised by the Pharisees in yesterday’s Gospel. Their question was asked in order to indict Jesus and to embarrass Him about the lack of ‘tradition’ maintained by ‘some of His disciples.’ (These now also being the Gentiles of Mark’s community) Among this was the tradition was the washing of hands before eating and the restrictions regarding what one could or could not eat.
According to Leviticus 11:43-44 and 20:24-26, Yahweh “separated” the clean from the unclean food in order to distinguish the Israelites from the surrounding peoples. The Jews preserved their religious and national identity through practices associated with food laws, hand washing, and Sabbath keeping.
When Jesus, in Mark’s Gospel declared all foods clean (verse 19) He prepares the way for the Gentile mission and dissolves the separation among Jew and Gentile based on dietary restrictions. And it does not end with merely a break down with what one can eat for from here, Jesus enters into Tyre, which is Gentile territory, and ministers to a Syrophoenician woman who displays more understanding of his ministry than those closest to him. The Gentiles, as it were, get the message of Christ not the Jews.
Jesus’ reply is really an exposition not only of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes but of all humanity. For Jesus the source of defilement was more internal than external. For Jesus it was all about who you are and not what or how you eat.
For Jesus, one can’t ignore the core issues of mercy by hiding behind human traditions. At the heart of the history of human salvation lies the human person and not human traditions. It is what comes out of a human person that truly is cause for worry and not what goes in. Often our evil thoughts, adulterous desires, wickedness, pride and ego is what is eating us from within. It is not what goes within but what grows within!
Many of us will be consumed by what we are giving up this year during the season; by what we will avoid eating. Don’t let this significance of this Lenten season be lost again for it matters little what we don’t eat if we are being eaten from within.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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