Sept. 2, 2012 Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8 James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Human tradition easily becomes so ingrained in the life of a society that it achieves the strength of law. There are times, in fact, when we are unable to separate the two. Which practices are merely a part of human tradition? Which are law?
For Jews, in addition to the laws that come directly from the Scripture, there are the laws that were enacted by the rabbis. Some non-Jews would criticize this as legalistic and hold that it reduces religious practice to a set of rituals without spirituality. For the observant Jew, though, adherence to both laws increases spirituality in a person's life. What might otherwise be trivial acts, such as eating and getting dressed, become acts of religious significance.
When Jewish Scripture scholars look at this part of Mark’s Gospel, they tell us that this is at the root of the disagreement. Mark undoubtedly recognized the law rooted in Scripture. The Pharisees were known for observing traditions not found in Scripture like the hand washing but all Jews did not follow the Pharisees. For all Jews, though, obedience to the law as they saw it was demanded by the covenant they had made with God. The law was the revealed will of the Father.
With the Gospel, we have not only a new law but a different way of looking at law that enhances (but does not remove) the law of the Covenant. This Law is Christ. This is a law that does not come in thunder; it comes in a whisper of love. It comes in a child whose newborn song is love. It comes in a man who dies singing love and in the Risen Lord whose song is love. Our relationship to God is still determined by law, but the law can be articulated simply: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strengthYou must love your neighbor as yourself.” No matter how simply it can be stated, the law is not simple. Christ articulated a bond between the love we have for God and the love we have for one another. Our love of neighbor is an articulation of our love for God.
Love demands a new way of being. Love is not something we do; it is something we are. The law is no longer an external set of rules or a burden. It is a joyful swell or response rising from the Spirit dwelling within us. Christ, the Law, has set us free!
In Christ, we have hope of a new freedom. In Christ we have the example of humankind dependent on the will of the Father and still free. In Christ, we give ourselves up to the spontaneous love of the Father because our freedom allows us to reach out to him.
The Eucharist is our freedom celebration. We gather to celebrate the actions by which Jesus Christ has freed us to live his Law. We gather to celebrate his dying and rising. This is the new Law. This is the love we pledge to one another in Jesus Christ.