Encountering God and World in Scriptures

Light of truth

Lectio Divina- 9

Fr Martin Kallungal

“So the Pharisees and scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not respect the tradition of the elders but eat their food with unclean hands?” He answered, “How rightly Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites…. You put aside the commandment of God to observe human traditions.” And he said to them, “How ingeniously you get round the commandment of God in order to preserve your own tradition! For Moses said: Honour your father and your mother, and, anyone who curses father or mother must be put to death. But you say, “If a man says to his father or mother: Anything I have that I might have used to help you is Korban (that is, dedicated to God), then he is forbidden from that moment to do anything for his father or mother.In this way you make God’s word ineffective for the sake of your tradition which you have handed down. And you do many other things like this.” (Mk. 7:5-13)

The immediate context of the passage is Rabbinic debate about defilement. Jesus is questioned for his disciples’ disregard for the tradition of the elders, especially regarding the washing of hands before eating. Jesus not only defends his disciples but also strongly attacks the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Jesus’ views obviously differ from that of the Pharisees and Scribes on essential points of religious life. While Jesus gives importance to the written tradition, the Pharisees and Scribes give importance to their oral tradition of interpretation which they believe protects the Torah with a powerful fence. Jesus blames them for abandoning God’s commandments in their zealous efforts to observe their own tradition. He places the commandments of God above even the sanctity of human oaths like Korban. It is the Word of God that shapes God’s people as a community. But, those who project human tradition over above what is said in God’s written Word are themselves taking an active role in shaping the community. Jesus does not allow anyone to outsmart God in shaping God’s church. However, he is not criticizing liturgical and devotional practices in this passage. What he rejects is the tendency to substitute mere outward expressions of religiosity for genuine acts of obedience to God and His written Words. The reference point of God’s Word is human person, not one or another ritual.

O’ Lord, thank you for challenging my false views of holiness. Help me, Lord, to courageously give up legalistic and hollow piety. I join the Psalmist in praying to you ceaselessly: “Teach me the way of your Word, and I will observe it.Give me understanding and I will observe your Law, and keep it wholeheartedly. May my ways be steady in doing your will.” Save me Lord, from all human teachings that obscure your Word. Let my gaze be always fixed on your commandments.

Loving God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength is the first commandment. This is a commandment that does not require any interpretive elaboration. The direct intent of God’s commandment is not a set of expressions of formal piety but sincere and undivided love. Let our pious gestures be powered by loving movement of heartfelt thoughts along God’s Word.

Avoid or withdraw from disputes, if any, over the expressions of formal piety. Assess and improve the spiritual quality of your interior movements the next time you make a ritual gesture.


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