Love in Action
Readings this week follow Jesus in the Sea of Galilee region as He moved from one Gentile area to another, healing and questioning the very way the Pharisees applied the Torah to life. His reputation as a healer was growing and people flocked to the Lord because of His power and that power could be accessed simply by touching the fringe of His garment
The rural followers of Jesus were not as scrupulous as their urban critics, the Pharisees and the scribes. These city dwellers challenged the country people to follow the Law in their detailed fashion. The Lord returned criticism; their myopic focus on detail missed the larger picture of the Law; indeed, such a small view could break the Law. He implied that the Pharisees were not only wrong, their method of interpretation was illegitimate.
Passages like Mark 7:1-13 defined the difference between the Judaism of the Pharisees and that of the early Church. Jesus explained His principle of interpretation: separating ritual duties (like keeping a kosher diet) from moral duties. The distinction between the ritual and the moral began with the prophets (“I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” Hosea 6.6a). Compassion trumped worship, for such mercy gave a prayerful relationship to God meaning. The Lord, however, took this difference to its logical conclusion by separating the two. This was something unthinkable to a faithful Jew, for they saw morality and ritual purity as two sides of the same coin of the kosher. Jesus did not. For Him righteousness was rooted in moral intent, not in simple ritual behaviours. More to the point, such ritual acts were almost pointless. The true source of the kosher was the heart.
Such thinking was revolutionary. It allowed the followers of Jesus to allow Gentiles into their assemblies, not as second class worshipers but as equals. Those born unclean could become clean simply by the goodness of their hearts. Such was the message of the Master, such was the will of God.
We might ponder these questions: How do we measure the worth of others, by their acts or their intentions? Are we too scrupulous or obsessive about our spiritual life? Have those behaviours hindered acts of mercy?
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