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After reading from the Gospel of John for the past five weeks, this weekend we return to the Gospel of Mark. In our Gospel this weekend, we find a scene that is often repeated in the Gospels. Jesus is at odds with some of the Pharisees and the scribes. (Often in the Gospels Jesus is depicted as being in conflict with either or both of these groups.) The scribes and Pharisees were strict adherents to the law. Now, in and of itself adherence to the law is not a bad thing. In the case of the scribes and Pharisees, however, it was problematic, because in many cases their relationship to God had taken a back seat to their adherence to the law.
The issue is our Gospel today had to do with the fact that Jesus’ disciples “ate their meals with unclean, that is unwashed hands.” Prior to eating, Jews were supposed to purify themselves. These and other “rites of purification” were prescribed for Jews, and yet Jesus’ disciples were ignoring them. Jesus challenged their position and reminded them that what “defiles” people does not come from outside, but from within a person. If our hearts are set on God the appropriate actions will follow accordingly.
Our first reading for this weekend is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy. In it Moses reminds the people of the “statues and decrees” they have been given by God. “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God is to us whenever we call upon him?” For Moses, the law was to lead people to God, not take the place of their relationship with God.
Our second reading for this weekend is from the letter of James. We will read from it for the next four weeks. In the section we read today, James reminds us that we are to “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Have you ever allowed “following the rules” to take the place of your relationship with God?
- When have you called upon God and felt close to God?
- How do “doers of the word” act?