FEBRUARY 8, 2012 – WEDNESDAY OF 5TH WEEK: MARK 7:14-23

 

THE THINGS THAT COME FROM WITHIN ARE WHAT DEFILE ANYONE. The Lord Jesus, meek and humble as he was, did not shrink from challenging authorities. He knew in advance that he would meet with resistance and even hostility from them when he confronted them with his novel way of understanding the law of Moses. He was sent by God his Father to reveal a manner of serving God that was to include the whole of the human person, not only actions but intentions and disposition of the inner self. Later, a goodly number of his followers where to speak of the place of God in the heart, and to teach a prayer that took on a new intimacy for it was made in the inmost recesses of the inner man.

 

Jesus knew he would meet with a strong resistance when he made it a fundamental principle that our relation to God depended on the most personal attitudes of the hidden self rather than on outward observances. This principle was for him so essential that, he went so far as to contradict the current way of presenting the revelation God made to his people. Though it caused tension and was to result in hostile attacks that eventually led to his death, yet he would not back down. In the face of increasing opposition, he continued teaching by word and example a doctrine that was counter-cultural and, in its effects, nothing less than revolutionary.

 

The scribes and Pharisees proved much more sensitive to this feature of our Lord’s preaching than did his own chosen disciples. In today’s Gospel account of a particular occasion when our Lord delivered such a radical message, he is at pains to explain to his close associates in private and in considerable detail some of the implications of his statements concerning the primacy of interior intent in matters of morality. Almost in passing, as Saint Mark is careful to note, in doing so he voids a whole area of current food laws upheld by Jewish authorities that played a major role in everyday life of the practicing Jews. There is a whole culture still in force today in Orthodox Jewish circles of kosher observances that, in today’s Gospel, Jesus revoked. The authorities Jesus confronted objected strenuously to the liberal practices that our Lord introduced. For them to be a true Jew meant observing these prescriptions conscientiously. Not only the Pharisees but the lay Jewish faithful viewed them as an expression of devoted fidelity as we see from the example of Peter, the fisherman, who even after the resurrection of Jesus continued to follow the laws of kosher until he was given a private revelation that taught him the lesson that Jesus asserts in the Gospel we have just heard. We learn from this experience of the chief of the apostles how deeply committed to such practices were the serious Jews of our Lord’s time. (See Acts of the Apostles 9:9-29).

 

Ultimately, in fact, our Lord’s ways of acting and teaching concerning such matters seemingly of secondary, even trivial significance, proved to be a crucial matter. In asserting his right to rescind the various practices that were governed by the food laws prescribed in Leviticus chapter 11, he claimed to possess a higher authority than Moses who was held to be the guarantor of such legislation. The scribes and Pharisees recognized that in making such a claim by implication he maintained that he embodied an authority superior to that of Moses. They were sensitive to the fact that such changes in practice as Jesus preached called into question the basis of the whole system of morality that their religion laid claim to. Once the special revelations as to the primacy of inner dispositions over outer observances were made to Peter first then to Saint Paul at the time of his conversion the early Christians feel free to consider the gentiles who accepted the Gospel teachings the equal of the Jewish believers. We are told that there was at first a tendency to treat as second class the gentile widows whereas those who were Jews received the best of care. This prejudice was the result of a deeply traditional theological conviction that required special intervention from the Lord even after the resurrection.

 

Eventually, there developed a whole spirituality that evolved as a result of this insistence of Jesus on the dispositions of the heart. Purity of heart is the goal of the monastic life, John Cassian taught in the first of his Conferences.    

 

These learned men of the law grasped the meaning of such a stance more readily than did our Lord’s chosen followers. In fact, Jesus was to chide certain of his disciples after the resurrection, Saint Luke tells us, for being slow to understand the true meaning of the Scriptures, and make it clear that as a result that failed to anticipate his resurrection. (Luke 24:25) Though Jesus had good reason to criticize his disciples for being slow of understanding, yet, in striking contrast to the learned men of the law he was able to appreciate their fundamental openness to the reality of his person and their capacity for trusting faith. The men on whom he founded his Church were not so learned, not so quick mentally perhaps as were those who resisted him and rejected him. However, they had those dispositions of heart that prove in the end to be the critical issue in determining the personal meaning of a human life.

 

One of the reflections that these considerations lead us to make as we hear Jesus expound on the basic importance of our inner dispositions in today’s Gospel, is that the ultimate value of our very person is determined by the actual choices we make day by day. These choices are expressions of the inner dispositions of heart that our Lord speaks of in this text, for we are engaged in a process of change that we call life. We cannot remain unchanging so long as we live. We become better or worse by the choices we make or fail to make in our daily interaction with the world and with others. We find a striking illustration of this truth in the Acts of the Apostles. For even many of the Jews who had approved of the death of Jesus, upon hearing Peter’s preaching on the risen Christ acknowledged their guilt and putting their faith in the word of truth, asked for baptism. (Acts 2:41)   If Peter had been fearful and timid on the night of our Lord’s arrest, after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit he proved boldly fearless in witness against the guilty Jews. Here are his words: “The whole house of Israel can be certain that God ha made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” So effective was his courageous bearing that gave entry to his blunt words that the response was immediate and altogether receptive as Luke goes on to add: “Hearing this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the apostles, “What must we do, brothers?” Peter’s reply at once gives practical advice and instills hope not only in his audience at the time, but still in each of us who trust in his words today: “You must repent, and every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 9:37)

 

Confident that we too, having receive forgiveness from our Savior who gave himself for us even to death on the cross, we express our deep gratitude to Him and to the Father who gave Him up for our sake, as Saint Paul also reminds us in this Eucharist. May our communion with the Lord of glory in this sacrament increase our trust and confidence that we have received his mercy in the midst of his temple, that is to say, his glorified, mystical body. 

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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