Those Pesky Pharisees

Gospel Reflection for Tuesday, February 9th, 2021 — Mark 7:1-13

Catholics often get a bad wrap from their Protestant Christian counterparts. Why is that? Well, there are actually several reasons, but the one we’re looking at here, today, is our reliance on Holy Traditions. Quite often Christians will look at today’s Gospel selection and conclude that teaching “traditions” is a bad thing. But, is really what Jesus is saying in this encounter with the Pharisees?

By the time of Christ, the Jewish religious leaders had developed a strict codebook of rules and regulations regarding their spiritual life. Much of this revolved around requirements for “Ritual Purity.” They had taken the Old Testament laws and expanded on them, giving man-made rules concerning spiritual piety equal to or even greater than God’s requirements.

This is what the Pharisees were complaining about here. By strict, pharisaic standards, Jesus’ followers were ritually unclean, as their ministry wandering through the countryside didn’t allow them the luxury of proper cleanliness rituals prior to their meals. No, we’re not speaking of simply washing hands here. There was a complex and ritualistic process that the Pharisees were demanding.

Yes, Catholics can and do slip into similarly problematic areas. Consider, priestly celibacy for instance in the Roman Catholic Church. There is no denying that there are New Testament passages suggesting that it would be easier for those of us in Holy Orders to focus on things of God without the worries of familial responsibilities. However, they’ve taken a man-made tradition and church disciplinary practice and elevated it nearly to the point of Church law.

In the 19th century, yes, nineteen-hundred years after the formation of the Church, the RCC elevated two of their traditions to the point that they MUST be believed in order to be saved. According to the Church of Rome, a person cannot be in a state of saving grace if you do not believe their dogmas of “Papal Infallibility,” and the “Immaculate Conception” of the Virgin Mary — meaning that Mary was preserved from “Original Sin” at birth. Neither of these beliefs had been