BEING CLEAN AND PURE: 22ND SUNDAY YEAR B
‘… the things that come from within,’ says Jesus, ‘are what defile’ (Mk 7:15)
There are three kinds of cleanliness, three ways of being clean. There is bodily cleanliness, i.e. hygienic cleanliness, as when we take a bath or shower, or use a hospital sanitizer to ward off germs. There is ritual cleanliness, as when the priest at Mass washes his hands. And there is ethical cleanliness, i.e. moral cleanliness, which Jesus emphasizes today as the kind that matters most.
The opponents of Jesus blame him because his followers are not observing Jewish rules of ritual cleanliness. They are not washing their hands before and during meals. In reply Jesus calls them ‘hypocrites’. They are hypocrites because, as he points out: ‘You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.’
The word ‘hypocrite’ has an interesting history. It begins by meaning simply someone who answers. It goes on to mean someone who answers in a set dialogue and conversation, i.e., an actor. Finally it comes to mean someone whose whole life is a piece of acting, without any sincerity at all. Jesus tells his opponents they all fit that category. ‘You are hypocrites,’ he says to them, ‘you are great pretenders.’
What Jesus was up against was the belief of his enemies that the human rules and regulations they stressed were the essence and the heart of religion. For them to keep the rules was to please God, to break the rules was to sin.
What was true when Jesus was walking around Palestine is still true. Anyone for whom religion is just a set of human rules, anyone for whom religion means conforming only on the outside to rules and regulations, anyone for whom religion is only the exact compliance with a list of taboos, is a hypocrite.
Take the case of legalistic Jews at the time of Jesus. They might fiercely hate fellow human beings. They might be full of envy and jealousy. They might conceal bitterness and pride. But e.g., so long as they carried out the prescribed hand washings correctly the values, meanings and intentions behind such rules did not count.
So Jesus takes them on. He begins by quoting the Word of God as expressed in the prophet Isaiah: ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’ He insists that what really defiles a human being is the evil behaviour that comes from within – from the thoughts and desires of the heart. He strings together a powerful set of examples: – malicious intentions; sexual irresponsibility; theft; murder; adultery; greed; hurting and injuring others; trickery and deceit; self-indulgence; jealousy; slander; contempt; and acting the fool in ways that harm others.
One of the excuses we often hear from people who stay away from church is that those who go are ‘hypocrites’. I don’t believe that. Yet what they say does point to the danger of identifying religion with outward observance – with such religious practices as going to Mass, fasting, reading the bible, saying morning and evening prayers, and putting money on the plate. These are good and worth-while things to do, but only if our hearts, disposition and attitudes towards God and our fellow human beings, are right. If in our hearts there lurk enmity, bitterness, grudges, hate and contempt for others, all the outward practices in the world will show us up for what we really are – hypocrites.
So, let’s be sure to pray to Christ in our Holy Communion with him today, both for ourselves and one another, to save us from any and every kind of hypocrisy, and to help us to live and act with clean, committed, pure, sincere, constant and and consistent hearts!
Why not read more of Fr.Brian Gleeson’s Sunday Gospel Reflections on: https://realhomilies.wordpress.com/