Monday, February 6, 2012

Tradition in Light of the Gospel of Mark

Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
(1 Kgs 8:22-23, 27-30; Mk 7:1-13)

One point that people use in the debate between organized religion and the personal practice of faith is that the Church is too centered on its traditions and not the practical use of the Gospel message in our day to day lives. This is far from the truth and it is this misunderstanding of tradition that leads to confusion. I am reminded of the old Thanksgiving tale about the daughter who asks her mother why they cut the ends off of the ham for dinner. The mother replies, “I really don’t know sweetheart, I’ll have to ask your grandmother.” So she goes into the den and asks her mother the same question. Her mother replies, “Well, it was just something that my mother always did.” We get accustomed to doing things a certain way and we never really bother to think about WHY we do things. They become apart of our very identity. They make us who we are.

In today’s Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus is trying to show that God’s dwelling place is not blindly following the laws of humanity but in keeping his commandments in our hearts. The Pharisees are so stuck in their ways and are so intent on destroying Jesus that they fail to recognize that he is indeed God’s dwelling in the presence of his people. They wanted to fix God’s law to serve their own purposes and desires to be kept clean by God’s divine mercy. God’s greatest commandment is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. It is God’s love for us that keeps us free from sin. This love is shown through the signs of his grace in the sacraments of our Christian faith. By sharing in this sacramental covenant relationship with Jesus we become co-sharers in the divine mission. That is to work with him for peace and justice in the world. God’s will is never one that tries to overpower and dominate the human will. It is one that tries to work through us and in us to bring out the goodness that is found in Christ.

In today’s society our human traditions have taken precedence over God’s commandments. We strive for peace in the world but we do so out of our own righteous indignation. We live in a very individualistic society. We are bent on controlling our own destinies. We want to be free and independent to live our own lives. We are closed in on ourselves. We hang tight to the human traditions that define who we are as a people. It is this egoism that blinds us to the reality of God’s presence in the world. The power of God is meant to serve, not to control. Faith allows believers in the incarnation of God’s rule to simply live more fully in unity and harmony with each other. When we see people misuse the power of God that resides in all of us we see the ugliness and the unclean flesh of the human spirit. Jesus responded to the Pharisees with the words of Isaiah, “This people honors me with unclean lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine human precepts.” So in reality being a true disciple of Christ is that when we pray in communion with each other in the sacraments of God’s grace, we are called by Jesus not only to live faith but to practice faith. To indeed show as Solomon asked, “Can it indeed be that God dwells on earth?” Lars Svendsen writes in the ‘Philosophy of Boredom’ that, “Traditions have been replaced by lifestyles.” This is true, however the very life of the Church, it’s lifeline, it’s blood donor is Christ Jesus himself who washes clean our hands at the table he provides. He fills the hunger and thirst that resides in our souls for peace among all peoples of the world. Amen.

– Jesse Darnell Augustine Pellow, Postulant T.O.R.