“This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
Tuesday, 31 August 2021
We want to do the right thing, whether to obey the laws that govern our society or trust an instinctual sense of right instilled in us. We are also quick to find fault when traditions appear to have been broken. And we seek ways to redress apparent wrongdoing, often at the cost of the other, however misguided we may be in our sense of right and wrong. This is the scenario that I would like us to entertain today as we reflect on this part of Mark’s Gospel.
When the Pharisees and scribes entered the room and saw Jesus’ disciples eating without washing their hands, they may have felt that God was disrespected. We can, I think, be somewhat sympathetic to the worry of the Pharisees. We, too, would be outraged if we saw something being done in apparent contravention of what we took to be God’s law.
While this may be too charitable an interpretation of what’s going on in this Gospel scene, I think it can help us to reflect on how we respond to one another when we are threatened or challenged. It’s the old-hat trick of putting ourselves in the shoes of another to see a different viewpoint. That is one way we might see Jesus’ response to the professional religious scholars and worship leaders of the time.
Jesus challenges the Pharisees and scribes to see the situation from the viewpoint of another. He points out their hypocrisy, warning them to check their self-righteousness at the door.
Jesus speaks to them in terms they will understand. He reminds them of what the prophet Isaiah said to God’s people: “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” By doing this, Jesus beats the Pharisees and scribes at their own game. He uses the same strategy they used against his disciples; he quotes the Scriptures at them.
Recall a recent time when you harshly criticized another without considering the motivation behind the action that upset you. What might you have done differently to put yourself in the shoes of your apparent aggressor?