A reading from the gospel according to Mark 7:1-13:
1 When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus,
2 they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.
3 (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders.
4 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.)
5 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?”
6 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;
7 In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.
8 You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
9 He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition!
10 For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother, and Whoever curses father or mother shall die.
11 Yet you say, ‘If someone says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’ (meaning, dedicated to God),
12 you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother.
13 You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.”
Reflection: Tradition, Lip Service and Hypocrisy
The message to God to His people as spoken through the prophet is about love, compassion and forgiveness. Through the years however this message got lost in the myriads of legal and formal religious requirements which became burdensome to the vast majority of the population. The religious leaders who were well educated on the Torah tried to adhere to these precepts and demanded others to do the same. The problem was the superficiality of their behavior which became very obvious to Jesus.
In the gospel reading above, the religious authorities noted that the disciples of Jesus did not follow the tradition of washing hands before eating. Jesus chastised them for their hypocrisy. They cling to human tradition but disregard God’s commandment. They worship God with their lips but their heart is far away from God who is love. In short, there is a disconnection between their outward appearance and their inward disposition.
Washing hands before eating is necessary for hygiene but a clean heart is far more important. God is more interested in our intentions rather than our appearance. He looks into our words and actions and determines whether they are loving or not. After all, a heart full of love will express itself in our words and actions.