Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15, R. The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Gospel—Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Starting this Sunday until the end of the liturgical year in November, we will be reading from the Gospel of Mark.
We can reflect on today’s readings from the perspective of form and content. Let us look at content first.
The theme of justice runs through the readings. Moses, in the first reading, pointed out, “What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” (Dt 4:8) The whole law is just.
The responsorial psalm proclaims: “The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”
Then James wrote: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)
This is one clear message of content. The work for justice and the aspiration of a just order in our world lie at the heart of our practice of religion, the living out of our faith.
The Gospel shifts the theme from justice to hypocrisy as Jesus denounced the Pharisees and scribes.
“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” (Mark 7:6-8)
Jesus then declared, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile … All these evils come from within and they defile.” (Mark 7:15, 23)
Here we see more clearly Jesus denouncing the oppression of the hypocrisy of the religious authorities, which inflicted great injustice on the people they were supposed to serve.
The hypocrisy also caused the injustice of distorting the original inspiration of the law as Moses stated—the whole law is just. Their hypocrisy used the law to oppress the people.
They laid on them a heavy burden of guilt that the externals are what defile. It was a way to control them. It was this oppressive and unjust control that prevented the people from arriving at the truth.
These issues still matter today. Those who hold the levers of power are potentially the Pharisees and scribes. In our day and age, knowledge is power. Those who control the flow of knowledge will either oppress or liberate the people they ought to serve.
Fake news, manipulation, etc., these are the new forms of oppression that come from the hypocrisy of those who control power and knowledge. This is the new form of injustice.
Now to take a look at form.
The past week we had two days when the Gospel for the day was the woes of the Pharisees from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus condemned their hypocrisy.
Jesus, who was compassionate and a source of consolation and healing to crowds, was angry at the hypocrites who oppressed these same crowds he cared for.
He denounced with a strong sense of righteous indignation the hypocrisy that inflicted injustice.
The form and the content are one. Jesus took a strong and authentic stand against hypocrisy and injustice—one that can only be taken by a fully integrated person, a person of integrity.
He did this for us, that we may have the freedom that comes from a well-formed conscience that can stand up to the manipulation and injustice of hypocrisy.
Jesus came for us that we “may have life and live to the full.” (John 10:10)
“Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
This is the price of our freedom. We must cherish it, nurture it and protect it.
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