Lectionary #125, Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
“In your observance of the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it. Observe them carefully” (Deut 4); “Be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1); “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7).
Today all three readings at mass focus on respecting and keeping God’s word. In Deuteronomy we are reminded to humbly obey God’s commandments, not giving in to the pride that would tempt us to add or take away from them, as though we knew better than God. In the New Testament epistle, Saint James warns his readers to follow through on their hearing God’s word by faithfully putting it into practice. In the gospel Jesus himself sternly reproves the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for the hypocrisy of rigorously observing the letter of the scriptures while ignoring their spirit.
All of us fall into patterns of recognizing the wisdom of a piece of advice but then going on to ignore it, or pretend it is not relevant in our case, or rationalize it away. This is bad enough when considering the words of our friends, colleagues, or family members, but the case is all the more serious when we take lightly the word of God. As Catholics we believe that the words of Scripture are more than simple conveyors of information; as the instrument of divine revelation these words, though bounded by the limits of human language, are one means by which God shares with us his very being.
In other words there is a sacramental aspect to the words of divine revelation—they make real and present what they speak of. Just as we respect our Catholic sacramental rituals and the things used in them, so too we ought to have reverence for the words of revelation as they manifest Christ the living Word in our midst.
Today’s readings thus remind us that when we keep the Word of God we are doing more than obeying a mere list of rules or reviewing historical records; rather, we are entering deeper into an encounter and a relationship with Christ the living Word. Like all of the rites of the Church and all of its sacraments, the words of divine revelation are focused on the person of Christ himself, not on teachings about him. Even the prophecies and teachings of the Old Testament point ahead to the coming of Christ, and the pages of the New Testament fulfill the anticipations of the Old.
To be sure, the words of scripture do indeed reveal lessons regarding morality and God’s nature and relationship with humanity—what the Church has traditionally called “doctrine”—yet they do so as a step on the way toward bringing the reader and hearer of the scriptures closer to Christ as a real person rather than as an abstraction.
A Catholic who had been born and raised in the faith yet had not truly identified with it until a moment of conversion once remarked that although before her conversion she attended mass dutifully and knew her catechism forwards and backwards it really meant little to her until she was introduced to Jesus not as an idealized holy picture or an abstract set of doctrines but as a person—a real person who loved her and who desired to be loved by her.
Listening carefully to the Word of God and discerning in it the voice of the Lord who calls to us personally we can find good counsel for our lives as disciples of Jesus and an ever deeper love and respect for the One who said: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.