Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Psalm: 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Strong words come forth from today’s readings! Moses, the prophet of the Passover and Exodus, clearly asks the people to reconcile themselves to the power of the commandments of the Lord over them. Their public behavior will be the "evidence" that will move other nations and peoples to recognize the covenant relationship that exists between the Israelites and God.
The meaning of the commandments and the underlying covenant is made explicit in the Responsorial Psalm, which names the practical expression of a just life.
Our second reading from James emphasizes the importance of a coherence between what we believe and what we do. "Be doers of the word and not hearers only…." In harmony with what the Psalmist had made explicit, James names the practical exercise of the commandments that reflect this first generation of the Christian community: "to care for orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."
Finally, in the gospel selection from Mark, Jesus is presented in dialogue with the Pharisees and scribes, the usual framing of a discussion that would exact from later hearers the clearer understanding of how Jesus was setting his followers apart from "traditional" Judaism.
Some scripture scholars attribute this concern over the rituals of the Jewish purification practices to be a response to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. Having been denied the supreme physical place of worship, the Jewish community began to magnify the importance of the domestic rituals and practices of the Law, as a sign of the fidelity of the community in spite of the loss of the Temple.
The response of Jesus to the implicit accusation that his followers are less devout and less observant because they do not perform the purification rites, is that these rites are merely external rituals which cannot redeem the individual from the truly "impure" motives and behaviors that flow from within the individual, from his or her heart. Just as what enters from without cannot defile, so the washing from without does not wash the guilty heart within. "From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile."
One cannot reflect on the Scriptures these days that lie amid the two national political conventions, and not ask whether our Scriptures should enlighten the discourse taking place. Upon listening to the hours and hours of speech-making, one might be inclined to believe that certain basic Christian tenets have been dispensed for the campaigning: "thou shalt not bear false witness" comes to mind.
However, what is even more contrary to the Gospel of Jesus is the sentiment that "economy" trumps "human dignity", or that "wealth" is a sign of "goodness". Both points of view are markedly contrary to the teachings of Jesus. When economic principles (whether proven or unproven) are actively debasing human dignity, can we support them in good conscience? It seems to be a principle that giving money to wealthy people (tax cuts) is good, but giving money to poor people (health care/medicare) is bad. Underlying this polarity is probably the bias we have about success equals goodness and indigence or need equals badness.
Let us pray that the pivotal decisions that will be made about the future leadership of our country will be, as the first reading points out to us, a witness to the presence of God in our lives and in our consciences. Let us show the other nations that in our country the value of human being and human goodness is not measured by the dollars in the bank account, whether onshore or offshore.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P., is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.