30th AUGUST 2015

Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15,21-23.
Rev Tony van Vuuren

There are lots of confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees in scripture and Jesus always comes out on top. We are back with Mark’s Gospel this weekend and we hear of the episode where the Pharisees; sent from Jerusalem representing the religious police; publicly challenge Jesus, hoping to shame Him by cornering Him with a charge that they believe is indefensible; the so called rabbi’s disciples eating with unwashed hands.

Now we have got Him — they are thinking. Not to be; Jesus is way ahead of them. He comes out swinging with an insult — Hypocrites! Jesus creatively quotes scripture from Isaiah; “they honour God with their lips, but their heart is far from God.”

He accuses them of obeying the law and traditions not to please God, but to be seen and admired by people; their motive being purely self-glorification. Jesus then refocuses the confrontation by completely changing the subject from the WAY someone eats to WHAT they eat. Telling them that it is what is on the inside of a person that counts, not what is on the outside.

It’s not what’s external that renders a person “unclean.” It’s what is in the depths of a person’s heart. Jesus reminds us that in our hearts there can reside jealousy, revenge, hatred, lust, oppression etc. He names 13 sins that we can commit from within; because from the heart come acts that we can so easily inflict on one another. Evil begins from within!

In this Gospel account Jesus calls us to examine our interior as well as exterior motives. We began Mass today, as we always do, asking for mercy for what we have done and what we had failed to do. We were not just addressing our external deeds, but also looking to our interior life — our thoughts and feelings — whether we acted on them or merely harbour them within. That’s what we bring to our worship today, our desire for a clean heart. And that’s what we were offered when we asked, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy,.”

But as we celebrate the Eucharist today we can so easily be like those Pharisees, often without even realizing it. It is easy to go through the motions at mass; crossing ourselves, saying the prayers, standing and kneeling at the appropriate times, singing out loud, giving the correct responses, receiving communion, and staying until the end. But these outward displays may or may not reveal what is on the inside. For instance we may be distracted, tired, preoccupied, holding on to some sin, or just attending this tradition because it is the right thing to do.

What does Jesus want us to have on the inside? His Love! He wants his love to be on fire in our hearts that moves us to kneel in humble adoration, to sing with joy, to listen attentively to his word, to respond sincerely and to greet one another with a true desire for their peace and well-being; to accept the Blessed Sacrament with reverence in our response; “Amen.”

The Letter of James guides us in determining if our religious life is true and our hearts are clean. The standard is how we treat the needy. He writes:”Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this; coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.”

That’s the kind of heart we wish to bring before God at this Eucharist; hearts longing to be made pure by the Word we have heard and the heart-renewing food we are about to eat.

What is underlining this Gospel account is that in this case Christ condemns the Pharisees by word and deed. He is merciful, kind and understanding to all sinners. He forgives sin and promises forgiveness to all who repent of their past misdeeds. Not only that; he left to us, his followers, for all time his sacrament of mercy and forgiveness, the sacrament of Reconciliation; by means of which we can have our sins forgiven by our priest acting in his name.

Should we ever forget all that Jesus has done for us and disobey in a serious way any of his commandments, let us remember that we are not excluded from his company, as sinners were excluded by the Pharisees.

We might bang the door closed on ourselves, but Jesus has given us the key with which to reopen it. Remember that the door knob and keyhole is only on our side of the door as shown in the painting of Jesus standing at our door and knocking. He is waiting for us to open the door to welcome him inside.

Let us never be so foolish as to fail to use that key to unlock the door!

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