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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 consistently held in the ancient Church. Neither were they taught in Holy Scripture.

My friends, what we believe and teach regarding Christ and His Church is of the utmost importance. As you can read In today’s Gospel, Jesus has some pretty harsh words for those who teach that man-made laws are on the same par with the Word of God.

Since Apostolic times, Catholic Christians have held Holy Tradition in High Esteem. We actually find support for following certain traditions in the writings of St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

We also see that grave error has entered the church over the past two millennia, from folks relying on the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, or the Bible alone as their source of doctrinal development. The multiple thousands of Christian denominations, each relying on the same source material and coming to different doctrinal positions illustrate how problematic that position can become.

Rather than creating doctrine out of whole cloth, or being driven by modern whims and politically correct schemes, Catholics have historically relied on the Three-Legged Stool approach: Holy Scripture, Holy Tradition, and the Teaching Magisterium. We believe that if you remove any one of these elements, the whole thing can come tumbling down. Follow this link to learn more. Let me know what you think in the comments.


GOSPEL Mark 7:1-13

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 went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother, and Whoever curses father or mother shall die. Yet you say, ‘If someone says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’ (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.”

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