God’s Precepts Versus Human Precepts

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8

Moses said to the people: “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 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, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

James 1:17-18, 21B-22. 27

Brothers and sisters: All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. —For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. — So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “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; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. “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.”

The phrase “race to the bottom” has, unfortunately, become one of the dominant characteristics of contemporary society. In a society where “I-specialists” are rampant and the “me-first” attitude reigns, people tend to operate with an individualistic mindset rather than a communal one. When everyone constantly tries to trample over each other to get to the top, wherever that is, the cohesive fabric of society is effectively torn and what’s left is just brokenness, isolation, and hopelessness. No wonder that in our society, so many have silently fallen through the cracks, while others continue to live according to their desires.

Catholic Christians are constantly called to action; to be the salt and light of the world (ref. Mt 5:13-16). In baptism, we say “yes” to love and “no” to worldly attitudes. From that day forth, we live in Christ and for Christ, that is, a life of love and sacrifice. Faith is not something airy-fairy but a call to action. It is certainly not enough to say, “I believe” if our faith has no effect on our actions, words, and thoughts. This week’s readings succinctly sum up what our Christian faith is about: be “doers”, not “hearers”, of the word and bear witness to God’s love in all we say and do (Jas 1:22, ref. Dt 4:6, ref. Mk 7:6-7).

In the Old Testament, God patiently teaches the Israelites the “statutes and ordinances” and commands that they must not “add … nor subtract from it” (Dt 4:1-2). These rules are extremely detailed and specific, dictating every aspect of their lives; however, they all point to their ultimate destination, the Promised Land. By observing these ordinances, God explains, they “may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land” (Dt 4:1). This is both a promise to the Israelites that they will possess the Promised Land and a prefiguration of God’s kingdom. The Israelites are taught as if they were little children as their faith and understanding of God’s precepts are rather immature. However, if they persevere, they will become a shining beacon among all nations: “Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people’” (Dt 4:6). God is telling His people, firstly, that they will bear witness to His glory, and secondly, to be patient and to place their trust in Him, as in the days of their exodus from Egypt.

In the New Testament, Jesus further reveals the treasure hidden in God’s statutes and ordinances. It is, in fact, more harmful to pay lip service to these rules if the heart is untouched or unaltered. In the Gospel of Mark, the Pharisees and scribes, once again, decide to challenge Jesus. They accuse His disciples of eating their meals with unwashed hands, hence, breaking Moses’ law of purification. Jesus, noticing their hardness of heart, said to them, “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition. How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition” (Mk 7:8-9). It seems that the Pharisees and scribes have weaponized Moses’ law to empower themselves, and perhaps, to “trick” Jesus into admitting fault. Their argument against Jesus only reveals their shallow and self-serving understanding of their own faith and God’s precepts. Jesus counters their argument by explaining that “everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile … All these evils come from within and they defile (Mk 7:18,23).

In truth, we must be honest with ourselves, and let God’s light reveal what’s in our heart. Are we, like the Pharisees and scribes, merely “hearers” of God’s word, or as St. James teaches, “doers” who “care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas 1:27)? When we claim that we are Catholics, we are not just “telling” the world who we are, but more importantly, living as such, “ to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8). Let us put our faith in action and begin healing our divided and broken world.

Posted: August 29, 2021

Susanna Mak

Susanna深信,信仰需要在日常生活中顯露出來,尤其是當與別人相處時,需要分擔對方所面對的困境、抉擇和挑戰。她有着很多不同的身份:女兒、姐姐、朋友、姨姨、妻子、老師、校牧、終身學習者和偶爾替《生命恩泉》寫作的作者。在每一個身份當中, 她努力為天主的愛和希望作見証。 她在多倫多擔任高中教師近二十年,擁有英語、學生讀寫能力、青年領袖活動、校牧組等經驗。 她是多倫多大學商業和英語學士,教育學士,亞省Athabasca大學綜合研究碩士,以及擁有多倫多大學Regis學院神學研究碩士證書。她對於成為《生命恩泉》寫作團隊的一份子, 深感榮幸。 Susanna has a deep conviction that faith needs to be manifested in daily life, particularly, in one’s encounters with others as well as amidst dilemmas, choices, and challenges. She strives to be a living sign of God’s love and hope as a daughter, sister, friend, aunt, wife, teacher, chaplain, life-long learner, and occasional writer for FLL. She has been a high school teacher in Toronto for almost 20 years, with experiences in English and literacy, youth leadership initiatives, the Chaplaincy Team, to mention a few. She has a B. Comm, B.A. in English, and a B. Education from University of Toronto, an M.A. in Integrated Studies from Athabasca University, and a Graduate Certificate of Theological Studies from Regis College, U of T. She is humbled by the opportunity to be part of the FLL Writing Team.

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