Homily for the twenty-second Sunday of the year - Year B - Mk. 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Father Daniel Meynen
" Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, 'Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?' And he said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." (Is. 29:13) You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.'
" And he called the people to him again, and said to them, 'Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.'
" 'What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.' "
" Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, 'Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?' "
Today we are in the presence of something astonishing: the disciples of the Lord manifest through their simple bodily attitude, through a gesture, all the newness of the Revelation that Jesus came to bring to the world! The simple act of not washing their hands to ritually purify them allows the Spirit of God to make himself known as what he really is: the Spirit of the Father who rests on the Son! For there is something new here: God is Trinity, God is Life, and his Life is his Word, the Word whom the Father eternally begets in the Holy Spirit! Henceforth, true praise is that which is in Jesus: the incarnate Word of God!
This is why Jesus replies to the scribes and Pharisees: "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.' " (29:13) For already, before the Incarnation, true praise was possible and the chosen people could hope for the coming of the Messiah who had been promised since the fall of the first man. God's chosen people had the grace to hope for his coming and to already realize the perfect praise that the Lord expected of them. But this grace, though it was welcomed by a few, was not responded to by those who were called to lead the whole people. "In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" said Jesus, quoting the prophet Isaiah (29:13).
" You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men."
Here, Jesus speaks personally, he no longer cites the prophet Isaiah. Jesus now addresses the time in which he lives: his own time. But that time, the time of Jesus, is also our own, for when Jesus became flesh in Mary, he began what Saint Paul calls "the fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4). We are, ever since the Incarnation, in the time of Jesus, and what he said in his time is also relevant to our lives today. So these words are also addressed to us: " You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men."
Jesus always places himself on the level of newness: Jesus renews, because everything, other than him, becomes old. The tradition of men is not in Jesus: only the tradition of God is in him. For the word "tradition" itself expresses the act of transmitting to someone else something that we had received from another. And Jesus, as mediator and intermediary, is precisely the one who transmits to us everything that he has received from his Father, as he said to his disciples on the eve of his Passion: "All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." (Jn. 15:15)
The tradition of God, that which is in Jesus, renews: the tradition of God assumes the past and brings to its fullness all that preceding generations have lived in the Spirit of the Father, in the hope of the fullness to come, that of Jesus, the praise and eternal glory of God! The tradition of God renews, for it is the achievement of the order of the Father: it is the commandment of God received joyously and carried out faithfully! So when the disciples of the Lord did not wash their hands to purify them, they did not do so in a anarchic and disordered manner: on the contrary, they did so under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, the one who allows us to carry out the order of the Father already realized in Jesus.
The tradition of God renews with order! Let us be faithful to this tradition of God! Let us celebrate the Eucharist in this spirit! May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary help us to do so worthily! May She who is mediatrix in the sole mediator be for us the intermediary of this tradition of God fully lived in her Son!