Not Just our Lips
Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year. Fr Dermot Morrin preaches on the call to imitate the holiness of Christ.
It was after Jesus had fed the 5000 and before he fed 4000 more, that the Pharisees and the scribes from Jerusalem made their approach to Jesus. Having fed so many with just five loaves of bread and two fish, they would have Jesus answer questions about how some of his disciples ate it! But Jesus did not dismiss them or their concerns. Rather, he shifted the focus from hands defiled to what defiles a person, because the state of your heart is far more important than the state of your hands, and not just before you eat, but in everything you do. As a result, those who come to faith in Jesus are left in no doubt that discipleship cannot be reduced to performing certain specified external acts. We ourselves might ponder the extent to which those religious gestures, which we routinely make, are in accord with our own inner disposition. Of course, they are important, even if on their own they are never enough.
Jesus took the question of eating with defiled hands and posed a much deeper question about what really defiles the whole person. He moved the debate to what is going on in the heart, because the call to follow Jesus must involve the whole of oneself. It is the call to holiness. Jesus spoke of hypocrisy and lip service, but the real point of this gospel passage isn’t that we become more aware of the hypocrisy or lip service of others. Our gaze should be set steadily on ourselves and our own inner life. Just as in Mass, we pray, ‘may he make of us an eternal offering to you,’ we must pray each day that we will grow in holiness.
Now the vocation of Israel was indeed to be a holy people, who were to be a light to the nations. This is our call too as his disciples. Just as he knew his first disciples through and through, he knows us too. He speaks to us, knowing the real poverty of our attempts to follow him. He speaks always from the richness of God’s love and mercy for each of us. Of course, this does not mean that we can dismiss the challenge. His call for each of us is to repentance and conversion.
The call to holiness, that is to be God’s light to the world, is our vocation. The message of this passage isn’t just about those who have failed in fully answering this call, or those who honour God only ‘with their lips’ (7:6). It is about you and me, and how the faith we profess can come alive in us. Just as we pray that he will give us our daily our bread, so too each day we should strive to think good and not evil, to be chaste, honest, life-giving, faithful, to be content with what we have and to be generous. What ‘comes out’ of each one of us is important. This is how his kingdom grows in us and among us.
Mark tells us that these Pharisees and scribes had come from Jerusalem. Jerusalem, and what will take place there, is always before us as we read the Gospel of Mark. The mention of Jerusalem is a reminder that Jesus will die on a cross outside the walls of that city and that it is in that dark and horrible scene, which is full of defilement, that we will see the ‘Holy One of God’ (1:24). Before he fed the 5000, Mark tells us that Jesus felt a deep-seated compassion for the crowds, because they were like ‘sheep without a shepherd’ (6:34). It is this same compassion which sent him to the cross. By the victory he won for us then, he has opened up the possibility that in his hands, once nailed to the cross, you and I might become the place where others encounter goodness, honesty, humility, justice, mercy, faith, hope and love, and where our actions might offer genuine witness to the height and the depth, the width and the breadth of his undying love.
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8 | James 1:17-18,21-22,27 | Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23