Tuesday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time
Genesis 1:20 – 2:4a; Psalm 8:6-7; Mark 7:1-13
You probably noticed that three times Jesus used the word, “tradition.” What is he talking about? Is it the Tradition we refer to and rely on in the Church to this day?
In the first century, the Pharisees believed that occupation by Rome was a sign that God was angry with Israel for her unholiness. They got the idea that, if all Jews would follow the purity rituals of the priests, God would free Israel from Roman oppression. These cleansing rituals are what Mark called the tradition of the elders, and Jesus referred to as human, or your tradition. Essentially, it was superstition; the belief that, if they correctly performed some rituals, God would answer their prayers the way they wanted.
Sadly, temptations to superstitious thinking are still with us. Not long ago, I was in line at a local hardware store and happened to see bags labelled “Home-Selling Kits” on a rack. I picked one up. Inside was a plastic statue of St. Joseph, with instructions to bury him upside down outside the house you were selling. I didn’t think of the faithful and well-formed people who do such things with great piety, but of those who buy such kits without knowing, as the Catechism teaches, that our prayers are answered based on our interior disposition (Catechism, 2111), not because we performed a particular ritual.
By calling the scribes and Pharisees out, our Lord reminded them and us of two things related to piety, the virtue by which we give God the worship and service he deserves. First, true piety is based on love, not fear; specifically, love returned for love given. Think of the Creation story we just heard, how we are made in the image of God; or the psalm, how we are made little less than the angels, crowned with glory and honor, and given rule over the works of his hands. This is the pure, eternal, selfless love of God’s providence; if for no other reason than sheer gratitude, how could we return anything less than love for such a priceless gift?
Second, piety should motivate us not just to love and respect God, but also to obey his commandments, for they are expressions of his infinite love for us. Remember his first words to us in Genesis: Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Be fruitful: Thank God for the gift of family, especially today, your own. Multiply: Ask God to help you continue to find ways for your good works to prosper, now and in the future. Fill the earth: Everywhere you go, everyone you encounter, be like Christ; let no one be the same after they have been with you. Subdue it: Let us ask God to help us first master ourselves, that we may be better disciples; then find ways to make our own corner of the world a more just and Godly place. And let us pray always for an increase in our own piety, that every act of worship or reverence shown to Almighty God is never seen as a task or a burden, but as an act of joyful love.
Even when that means burying St. Joseph. Upside down.
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