Sunday, August 30, 2009

Do Not Add To What I Command You: Keep The Commands Of The LORD

Reading 1
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8

Moses said to the people:
“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin upon you,
you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.
Observe them carefully,
for thus will you give evidence
of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations,
who will hear of all these statutes and say,
‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’

For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?”

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5

R. One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.

Whoever walks blamelessly and does justice;
who thinks the truth in his heart
and slanders not with his tongue.
Who harms not his fellow man,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
by whom the reprobate is despised,
while he honors those who fear the LORD.

Who lends not his money at usury
and accepts no bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
shall never be disturbed.

R. One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.

Reading II
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27

Dearest brothers and sisters:
All good giving and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.
He willed to give us birth by the word of truth
that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you
and is able to save your souls.
Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.
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.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem
gathered around Jesus,
they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals
with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.

—For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews,
do not eat without carefully washing their hands,
keeping the tradition of the elders.

And on coming from the marketplace
they do not eat without purifying themselves.
And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed,
the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. —

So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him,
“Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders
but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”

He responded,
“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.”
He summoned the crowd again and said to them,
“Hear me, all of you, and understand.
Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.

“From within people, from their hearts,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile.”

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In today’s First Reading, Moses reminds the people of Israel, that the laws and customs, statutes and decrees which he is teaching them are not his, but the LORD’s, and they are offered by the Creator to his chosen people as invitations to the fullness of life and freedom, not as burdens which bind them like slaves to doing someone else’s will rather than their own. In the previous chapter, Moses had instructed the men of Israel to prepare to wage war in order to gain their new homeland. Now this land is their land, is their land; but it has been promised and given as a gift, a gift for which the donor – the LORD – asks, as an act of thanksgiving, that they obey his Law.

What we hear today is a lesson about the wisdom behind these laws and customs. They are wise because they come from the God of Wisdom, the Source of Life. They are wise, because they will prove to be more powerful and influential in establishing their new home than the power of arms waging war. The inhabitants will be won over to believing in the “one God” when they see how well the Israelites live together, fruitfully, justly, and trustingly in their “one God”.

The way the Jews are to live will reveal not only their intelligence, but the closeness of their God to them. This God cares for them, guides them and has revealed to them how to take care of the land and other gifts they have received.

We return to Mark’s Gospel today and find Jesus inviting the scribes and Pharisees to reflect on the why of their customs rather than the what. The religious officials of the Jews have been noticing that Jesus and his disciples do not keep the “traditions” of the “elders”. The “law” is one thing, but these “traditions” are added practices which extend the “law” and the power and prestige of the Rabbis who advance them. Washing of hands and cups is the center of the problem in this reading, but there are other accretions to the “law” to which Jesus takes exception.

The Law of Moses was part of the Covenant which God made with the Jews and was meant to help their relationship or response to this covenanting God. In a sense God is saying, “I have done all these great things for you; keeping these laws and customs is how you live, more than say, thank you.” The practices and little traditions have gotten in the way. They have become responses to the religious officials. The keeping of these has become more important than keeping the relationship which God has initiated, alive in their hearts. “This nation honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me”.

Love is shown in deeds, but so is sham. Having dirt under ones nails comes from doing something outside the body. The deeds of evil come from within and are not erased by washing hands or saucers. Lady Macbeth has been washing the spots off her hands for centuries and will never rid herself of the “damn spot” by all that scrubbing. The list of interior attitudes is quite extensive and encompassing. Jesus did not mince words or leave much to legal interpretation. Worship of God comes from the heart, but the heart hears these other calls as well. As always, Jesus offers the invitation to struggle against foreign voices and do those things which will purify the heart, spirit and soul.

Jesus, as Moses before him, offers us reminders of the relationship which God has extended to us. He embraces our interior with its fragilities. The external actions will reflect the status of the battle inside. To pretend that 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 eventually will 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 to others by the example of our lives.

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