Vol.4 No.51 DoM Gospel Reflection
22nd Sunday Ordinary Time/ August 30, 2015
By Carolyn Thomas
After weeks of reflecting on John’s gospel, we return to our readings from Mark. It is thought that Mark provides us with the earliest and most reliable source for those who seek the historical Jesus. Luke Timothy Johnson , in his book, The Writings of the New Testament, says that although Mark is the shortest of the gospels, it is the strangest and most difficult to grasp. In this gospel, Jesus,himself, is the singular “mystery of the kingdom”,”the Holy One”. He is recognized fully only by God and other spiritual forces. He radiates an intense and fearful power. It is a power that, at once attracts and repels, so that some are drawn to him and others reject him. The mystery of the holy, even when revealed, remains, ungraspable. The disciples, with whom we generally identify, are called by Jesus to be with him and share in his work, yet they do not understand. Mark uses Jesus’ relationship to his disciples to teach his readers. The message is mainly one of warning against smugness and self-assurance. He seems to be saying “If you think you are an insider, you may not be; if you think you understand the mystery of the kingdom,…watch out.” So much for the background of Mark.
As we know,The Law of Moses was very important for the people of Israel. They were proud of the legal system they had developed in their desire to be God’s people. Through the Law, they were expected to lead lives which were different than their neighbors. There was, then, great emphasis on the observance of the Law as a sign of commitment and obedience to God.
In the 4th and 5th centuries before Christ, there came into being a class of legal experts, whom we know as the Scribes. They were not content with great moral principles and issued thousands of little rules and regulations governing every possible action and situation in life. These rules and regulations were never written down until long after the time of Jesus and are what is known as the “Oral Law”. The word “elders” does not mean the officials of the Synagogue but refers to the great legal experts of the old days. (Read from William Barclay about the washing ritual)(William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible) By Jesus’ time, the law was no longer a guideline for helping people on their way to loving and serving God. Observing the law had become an end in itself. The external had become disconnected with the interior relationship to God.
In this reading from Mark, Jesus addresses tensions in the early Christian community of Mark where some of the new Christians were Jews and some were Gentiles. The Gentiles did not follow Jewish customs and so Gentiles were considered unclean.
In this passage, Jesus does not spare the Pharisees when they question Him about his disciples not following the the tradition of the elders. The word Pharisee means “separate”. By their fanaticism for ritual and law, the Pharisees had set themselves apart from the rest of society. Jesus calls them hypocrites and quotes the passage from Isaiah. This, to me, was reminiscent of the time Jesus was tempted in the desert and quoted scripture from the Old Testament. He then adds, “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition”. So, Jesus has accused the Pharisees of two things…hypocrisy and substituting human ingenuity for the laws of God.
The word “hypocrites” in Greek begins by meaning simply one who answers; it goes on to mean one who answers in a set dialogue or set conversation, that is, an actor; and finally means, one whose whole life is a piece of acting without any sincerity behind it all.(William Barclay)
With the disciples present, Jesus scolds the Pharisees and summons the crowd to Him and says to them “Listen, all of you and understand”. Jacqueline Syrup Bergan and Marie Schwan, in their Take and Receive series, say that the invitation to all indicates the universality of Jesus’ message and the death to spiritual elitism. The instruction “to understand” signifies the importance of the message that followed. “Nothing that goes into a man from the outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean.” This teaching was radical in its day!!! Jesus then departs for Gentile territory to extend his ministry of healing.
Jesus, likewise, challenges us, calls to us over and over again. He knows what is in our human hearts and gives us a pretty thorough list of the things which can keep us from God. Does He say to his disciples or to us,that we are doomed to these forces. No…He continued then and continues today, to heal, teach and love us. Let us make ourselves available to Him and allow Him to love us.
As I read and reflected on this gospel, I thought about several things.
- Do I judge others based on my traditions?
- Am I holding on to some of my traditions that are not serving me or the body of Christ well?
- Would I rather be right than in right relationships?
- What are my motives and intentions in my actions? Am I acting out of fear or to conform? Am I acting out of one of the evils lurking in my heart? Am I acting out of love? Am I even aware of my motives and intentions?
Jesus, the mystery of the kingdom, the Holy One, offers to us, as Larry Gillick says “reminders of the relationship which God has extended to us. He embraces our interiors with its fragilities…To pretend there is no battle going on is to be in delusion. Pretending by strict conformity to rules,laws, customs and traditions out of fear may look good, but will eventually result in a confusion, distraction and disorder of soul and life. Externals are a revelation of a truth rather than a cover-up for a lie. Jesus came to give us our truth and invites us to reveal it.”