Tuesday, February 9, 2010

They Honor Me With Their Lips, But Their Hearts Are Far From Me.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Reading I
1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30
Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD
in the presence of the whole community of Israel,
and stretching forth his hands toward heaven,
he said, “LORD, God of Israel,
there is no God like you i
n heaven above or on earth below;
you keep your covenant of mercy with your servants
who are faithful to you with their whole heart.
“Can it indeed be that God dwells on earth?
If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you,
how much less this temple which I have built!
Look kindly on the prayer and petition
of your servant, O LORD, my God,
and listen to the cry of supplication which I,
your servant, utter before you this day.
May your eyes watch night and day over this temple,
the place where you have decreed you shall be honored;
may you heed the prayer
which I, your servant, offer in this place.
Listen to the petitions of your servant
and of your people Israel
which they offer in this place.
Listen from your heavenly dwelling and grant pardon.”

As his life progressed, Solomon moved steadily downhill. The sacred writer implies that women were the cause of his downfall, and especially foreign women. Apart from the daughter of Egypt’s Pharaoh, he took many foreign women as his wives. Among these were many from ethnic groups with which the Israelites were forbidden to marry. The reason for this prohibition was the danger that one would be tempted to worship their gods, as is the case here.

Solomon fell in love with many such women and, towards the end of his life, he had 700 wives and 300 concubines (presumably something of a literary exaggeration). The problem was not so much the number of women in his life – for even David had a number of wives. But these women turned him away from Yahweh as his God. Unlike his father, David, “his heart was no longer entirely with the Lord”.

Among the gods Solomon began to worship under the influence of his wives were Astarte (Asthtoreth), the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom (Molech), the idol of the Ammonites. Worship of Molech not only severely jeopardized the recognition of the absolute kingship of the Lord over his people but also involved (on rare occasions) the practice of child sacrifice.

To appease his wives, Solomon built shrines to Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, and to Molech on a hill facing Jerusalem. And he did the same for many of his wives, who openly worshipped their own gods.

Twice in the past God had appeared to Solomon: the first time when he asked Solomon what special gift he wanted and Solomon, setting set aside wealth and military power, had asked for wisdom. In the second vision, just after Solomon had completed the Temple, Yahweh had promised many blessings on Solomon. But now, God is angry with him, especially because of his repeated idolatry and his violation of the covenant. Solomon had broken the most basic demands of the covenant and thereby severely undermined the entire covenant relationship between God and his people.

In punishment, his kingdom would be given over to not to a son but to one of his servants. However, for the sake of David, Solomon would remain king until his death. Also, for David’s sake, Solomon’s son would be left king of just one tribe. In this way, the promise of an everlasting dynasty for David’s line would be, at least partially, observed.

As Jerusalem contained the temple built by David’s son, the destiny of Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty were closely linked. The temple represented God’s royal palace, where his earthly throne (the Ark) was situated and where he had pledged to be present as Israel’s Great King.

Solomon’s foreign marriages were primarily contracted for political ends and the pagan shrines were intended for his wives and for traders. Such contacts, however, jeopardised the purity of the religion of Yahweh, and the author interprets the situation in the spirit and language of Deuteronomy. God punishes Solomon’s impiety by raising up enemies abroad (Hadad the Edomite) and at home, (Jeroboam will take over 10 tribes as king, leaving only Judah to Solomon’s son).

In the end, Solomon’s great wisdom could not prevent him being ruled by his heart and his political and economic interests.

How often have we, too, been ruled by our emotions and other considerations and been led into behavior which we know is wrong? It is so easy for us to rationalise, which means creating false reasons to justify what we do. And yet, the only way to go for our own long-term good is the way of truth, integrity and genuine love. Again we pray for that wisdom which gives us an insight into where truth and goodness are to be found.

The road to that wisdom, of course, is the Way of Jesus.

+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 84
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh
cry out for the living God.
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest
in which she puts her young—
Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my king and my God!
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
Blessed they who dwell in your house!
continually they praise you.
O God, behold our shield,
and look upon the face of your anointed.
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
I had rather one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I had rather lie at the threshold of the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
+++ +++ +++ +++

Mark 7:1-13
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 went on to say,
“How well you have set aside the commandment of God
in order to uphold your tradition!
For Moses said,
Honor your father and your mother, and
Whoever curses father or mother shall die.
Yet you say,
‘If someone says to father or mother,
“Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’
that is, dedicated to God,
you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother.
You nullify the word of God
in favor of your tradition that you have handed on.
And you do many such things.”
A group of self-righteous scribes and Pharisees come up from Jerusalem to observe Jesus. Obviously word has reached Jerusalem about what Jesus has been doing up in Galilee. They immediately notice that Jesus and his disciples do not observe some of the “traditions of the elders”, especially with regard to the washing of hands before eating. These traditions were a body of highly detailed but unwritten human laws which the Scribes and Pharisees regarded as having the same binding force as the Law of Moses. Paul admits to having been a fanatical upholder of these traditions (cf. Galatians 1:14)

It is hard not to come to the conclusion that many of these observances were originally based on practical experience. Eating without washing one’s hands could be a source of sickness, although they knew nothing about germs or bacteria. Because sometimes it could be diseased, eating pork made some people seriously sick so the meat was banned altogether. But in order to ensure these hygienic requirements would be observed they were linked to a religious sanction. Violating them was not just bad for your health, but a violation of God’s will. To ignore them was to disobey God.

Clearly Jesus was not against the washing of hands as such, even as a religious observance. What he was against was the legalism by which the mere observance of some external actions was equated with being a devout lover of God. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah (Is 29:13):
This people honors me only with lip service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless;
the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.

The real commandments of God, e.g. unconditional love of the neighbor, are neglected in favor of what are purely human traditions. Jesus illustrates the hypocrisy involved by showing how some supposedly devout people got around the basic responsibility of respect for parents (which the Mosaic law demanded) by claiming that they had consecrated all they owned to God and the temple, while in fact keeping it for their own use. The “qorban” was a way of supposedly making a gift to God by an offering to the Temple but in such a way that the donor could continue to use it for himself and not give it to others, even needy parents. (Like the priest who said, “Each week I throw all the collection up in the air for God. What stays up, he keeps; the rest comes to me.”)

We sometimes meet Catholics who confuse the essential service of God with some religious rulings. They judge people by whether they eat fish on Friday or not. They piously go through all kinds of devotional exercises but their conversation is full of gossip and destructive criticism of others.
Others get tied down by scruples:

-- Did I say my penance after Confession? When the more important question would be, Did I change my behavior? How did I keep my promise not to repeat the same sins?

-- Did I observe the full hour of fasting before communion? When the more important issue would be, Does my going to communion bring me closer to God and make me a more loving person with others?

There can be a bit of the Pharisee in all of us and that is the real subject of the teaching today. We will only be judged by the depth of our love and nothing else.

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