07 February 2007

FROM WITHIN

Wednesday in the 5th Week in Ordinary Time
Mk 7:14-23

In 170 B.C., the Syrian forces colonized Israel under the dreadful leadership of Antiochus IV. In his consuming desire to wipe out Judaism totally, Antiochus unrelentingly persecuted the Jews.

The story of the seven brothers and their widowed mother in the seventh chapter of the 2nd Book of Maccabees is an example of the violent persecution that Antiochus waged against the Jews. The story narrates how seven brothers were tortured and killed in the very presence of their widowed mother. Their crime was refusal to eat unclean food.

Today, in the Gospel, Jesus comes and, with one stroke, He sweeps aside the dietary laws that the ancestors of the Jews died for. Therefore, it should be easy for us to understand why the Pharisees reacted angrily towards Him.

St. Mark remembers well the words of Jesus: “…whatever goes into a man from outside cannot make him unclean….” The same evangelist even inserts a commentary right after the radical teaching of Jesus. He says, “Thus, he pronounced all foods clean.” It must have been very disturbing for the early Christians, to whom St. Mark immediately addresses his gospel, to accept the genuine freedom Jesus was offering them from the enslaving restrictions of the Old Testament Law. It must have been a very difficult emotional and psychological experience for them.

There is, however, a counter-side to the issue today. Jesus says, “Nothing that comes from the outside can make a man unclean.” If nothing from the outside can render us unclean, then nothing also from the outside can make us clean. If what comes in inside us cannot make us evil, then neither can it make us holy. Therefore, just as what comes out of us can make us unclean, so too can it make us clean.

Spiritual renewal must come from within. Outward displays of religiosity can never compensate for the lack of transformation within. An obsession in the guise of devotion cannot make anyone holy. A seeming humble retraction from a prior decision made that, in truth, conceals self-preservation cannot have a name other than evil. There comes a point in the life of each of us when we must honestly confront our selves and allow honest answers to come from our within. Then, we shall be judged clean or unclean.

This is the exact critique of Jesus against Pharisaic religion. Does it hurt us? Let the answer come from our within.

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