Immersed in Christ: February 9, 2021
Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 7:1-13. Year I: Genesis 1:20 to 2:4; Psalm 8:4-9. Year II: IKings 8:22-30; Psalm 84:3-11.
It is disturbing to realize that in the Gospels the people who opposed Jesus the most were the ones most identified with religion: First were the scribes, who, though without official authority, “after long years of study, around the age of forty” were given the status of reliable interpreters of the Jewish Scriptures. Their word was generally accepted, literally, as law. Then came the Pharisees, who tended to make observance of laws the narrow focus and main goal of religion. Finally came the priests, whose leaders, the “high priests,” were “members of the priestly aristocracy of Jerusalem” (Léon Dufour, Dictionary of the New Testament).
Their abhorrence of Jesus alerts us, first, to the corrupting force of power — especially, perhaps, of religious power — against which there is almost no defense. Second, it reveals the insidious infection inherent in focusing on religious laws. Third, it exposes the blinding delusion of rejoicing in prestige, individual or ecclesial. All three of these groups share the three undermining attitudes rejected from the outset by the bishops who gathered for the Second Vatican Council: juridicism, clericalism, and triumphalism. (See Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., Models of the Church Expanded Edition, Doubleday Image Books, 1987, p.39).
The Good News is by nature locked in a fight to the death against these three attitudes, as Jesus literally was. Isn’t it strange that the people most pre-occupied with religion in Jesus’ time were the ones who resisted most adamantly being evangelized by Jesus himself, Son of God and Word incarnate!
The “profile” of Jesus’ enemies appears in this reading. 1. They “gather around” Jesus, not to learn from him but just to “check out” his orthodoxy. 2. They cling blindly to the “customs of their ancestors” without evaluating these in the light of God’s loving will. 3. They ignore the commandments that call for deep changes of mind and heart and focus instead on external, even superficial behavior. 4. We have already seen (3:6) that they are more concerned about silencing those who oppose their narrow “orthodoxy” than about helping people to grow in knowledge, love and life. God says of them the worst thing anyone could hear: “their hearts are far from me.” They have been the entrenched enemies of the Good News from the time of Jesus until now.
Forewarned, we may find seeds of these attitudes in our own hearts. If we look.
Initiative: Study Phariseeism the way doctors study disease: to avoid it.