Wednesday of week 5 of Ordinary Time – Gospel


Commentary on Mark 7:14-23
 

After defending himself against the accusations of some Pharisees and scribes, about his not observing the traditions of the elders, Jesus now turns to the people. He enunciates what for him is the main principle:
– Nothing that goes into the body from outside can make a person ritually or religiously unclean.
– What makes a person unclean is the filth that comes from inside their mind and spoken through their mouth or expressed in action.

This was a major issue in the earliest days of the Church and was dealt with by the Council of Jerusalem. The story is told in the Acts of the Apostles. The first Christians were all Jews who continued to observe Jewish customs. But when non-Jews began to be accepted into the Christian communities, should they also be obliged to follow these laws and customs? It became clear that, from a religious point of view, no food could be called unclean. This helped to break down the barriers between Jew and Gentile. It has been pointed out that, immediately after this (cf. tomorrow’s reflection), Jesus entered Gentile territory, something he did not often do in his own ministry.

Even Jesus’ disciples seemed shocked by Jesus’ teaching (probably reflecting the reactions of some of the early Jewish Christians). Jesus repeats what he says in the light of the Kingdom he was proclaiming. No food that goes into a person from the outside can make a person unclean. Food does not go into the heart but into the stomach and ultimately passes out as waste. Real uncleanness is in the heart, in the mind. Real uncleanness comes from inside people in the form of “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly”. This is real uncleanness and the source is in ourselves and not in what we eat.

As Christians, we do not normally worry about clean and unclean foods on religious grounds but we can sometimes judge people's religious commitment by their observance or non-observance purely external things – a nun not wearing a habit, not taking holy water on going into the church, taking communion in the hand/in the mouth.

We may have got rid of the problem of unclean foods but there are many other ways by which we focus on trivial externals while ignoring the real evils, the places where real love is absent – in ourselves.
 

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