After several Sundays of a detour to Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel on the “Bread of Life” (and also the Feast of the Assumption), we return to the Gospel of Mark this Sunday (Mark 7 :1-8, 14-15, 21-23).
At the time of Jesus, the People of God paid very strong attention on the “Law and the Prophets’. Sadly, they became bogged down and smothered by many minute interpretations and applications of the Law by the rabbis. The ritual of washing before meals mentioned in this Sunday’s Gospel was one such expression of the interpretation. The exaggerated emphasis on rituals led to the Pharisees and Scribes placing more importance on the man-made traditions over the Law itself. Jesus saw this as the re-appearance of the hypocrisy and formalism condemned by Isaiah (Mark 7:6-7). Our Lord quotes from Isaiah; “this people honours me with their lips but their heart is far from me”. When this happens, worship becomes empty (c.f Second Reading) as the rituals became empty, as they are not inspired by the obedience to the commandments. Jesus taught that true purification comes first with the conversion of one’s heart.
We, the People of God of the New Covenant, have ‘rituals’ too, and our rituals are meant to take us to the heart of the two greatest commandments: loving God with all our heart, mind and soul, and loving our neighbours are ourselves. If they don’t they too are empty rituals.
God bless, Fr Michael Pui