Cycle (B) 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Deut 4:1-2, 6-8; Js 1:17-18, 21-22, 27; Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

For the Jews the holiest part of the Bible was the "Pentateuch" or the first five books, which they thought had been personally written by Moses, and which they reverently called the "Law." The Pentateuch contained Sacred Laws such as the "Ten Commandments" and customary laws to guide them in everyday life, such as laws regarding marriage and family, laws concerning inheritance, concerning crime and punishment, laws regarding diseases and rules of cleanliness. Pious Jews observed these laws with great sincerity and were even ready to sacrifice their lives when it came to breaking the laws.

There are a number of heroic examples in the Book of Maccabees. The story seven brothers and their mother who refused to eat the forbidden food is very touching. Seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were compelled by the king Antiochus, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine's flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, "What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the

laws of our fathers." 

The king fell into a rage, and gave orders that pans and caldrons be heated. These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly.

After the first brother had died, they brought forward the second. They tore off the skin of his head with the hair. In the same way they tortured and martyred all the seven brothers.

The mother saw her seven sons perish within a single day, yet, she bore it with good courage. She encouraged each of them, and died after her sons.

The story of persecution and defiance proved popular among Jewish communities, and the mother and her sons remained alive in Jewish memory.

The statement of Jesus in today's Gospel Passage has to be seen in this context. There were rigid rules for washing of hands. It was not in the interest of purity, but it was ceremonial cleanliness that was at stake. To fail to do this was in Jewish eyes to be unclean in the sight of God.  A Rabbi who once omitted the ceremony was buried in excommunication. Another Rabbi, imprisoned by the Romans, used the water given to him for hand washing rather than for drinking and in the end perished of thirst, because he was determined to observe the rules of cleanliness rather than satisfy his thirst.

The Scribes and Pharisees saw that the disciples of Jesus did not observe the tradition and the code of the oral law in regard to the washing of hands during meals. Jesus response was that he accused them of hypocrisy, by quoting the text from Isaiah. Legalism takes account of man’s outward actions; but it takes no account of his inward feelings. One may be meticulously serving God in outward things, and bluntly disobeying God in inward things. There is a story of a Mohammedan who was pursuing a man with upraised knife to murder him. Just then the call to prayer was heard. Immediately he stopped, spread out his prayer mat, said his prayers, and continued to pursue the enemy. Because it is prescribed that a devout Mohammedan must pray five times a day.

Today Jesus reminds us that there is no greater religious peril than that of identifying religion with outward observance. What matters in religion is to give one’s own heart to God. If the heart is not pure evil designs will emerge from it. Jesus gives a list of things as coming from the heart and making a man unclean. It is a summons to an honest self-examination of our own hearts.