Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Evil comes from an internal attitude
Impurity does not occur simply by something that is external
September 3, Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
After our extended reflection on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, we return now to the
Gospel of Mark. Mark, in much of his gospel, says that the disciples really didn't fully
understand Jesus and what he was doing.
Mark continues by telling us of the conflicts Jesus had with the leaders of Israel. We must
remember that Jesus had expressed the idea that these leaders were not good shepherds. They
had not really given to the people the leadership God's people deserved. Now these same leaders
attack and argue with Jesus about points of the law.
The Pharisees and some scribes had come from Jerusalem to Galilee probably to find out who
this preacher in Galilee was and why he was creating such a stir among the people. They
immediately noticed that Jesus' disciples did not observe some of the finer points of the law.
They had eaten their meals with unwashed and, therefore, unclean hands.
The statement that they had come from Jerusalem implied that the leadership in Jerusalem
wanted to challenge Jesus. They did so by attacking the practice of the disciples and they implied
that Jesus should control their practices.
The practice of washing of hands here means not so much a hygienic practice but a ritual
washing. The priests were expected to wash their hands before offering sacrifices. The Pharisees
wanted to extend this practice to all people and called it the "tradition of the elders." They taught
it as a standard of holiness. Since Jesus did not prescribe such a practice, they opposed him and
were critical of what he was teaching.
It is interesting that they did not attack Jesus directly but did so through a criticism of his
disciples. They, of course, thought he was responsible for the behavior of those who followed
him. They wanted to shame him and thought by doing so, people would lose confidence in him
and no longer follow him.
The interpretation of the Pharisees, while in itself might be a good thing, in many ways was also
part of a very legalistic approach to religion and the law. Jesus was much more concerned about
a religion of the heart. So Jesus criticizes these leaders and calls them hypocrites.
He quotes the prophet Isaiah who earlier was also critical of the practices of Israel for the people
had put a lot of emphasis on external practices but there was no real internal commitment to God. Jesus, therefore, says that these leaders who teach and demand a strict observance of the law had really failed to follow internally God's law. Jesus applied Isaiah's attack to these leaders.
Jesus uses this occasion to teach further about the importance of internal attitude. Mark tells us that Jesus called the bystanders to attention by saying, "Hear me, all of you, and understand." Defilement actually comes from what is in the heart. Uncleanliness or impurity does not occur simply by something that is external. Evil comes from an internal attitude and then proceeds to action. Food does not defile a person.
Our actions, which come from an internal attitude where if evil destroys our relationship with God, are the true ways in which we break God's law.
(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)