“Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” (Matthew 15:2)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly warned against the practice of a spirituality of hypocrisy. In fact, as Jesus puts it: “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20).
What was wrong with the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? One, it was a righteousness that only cared about what people would say rather than what God says. Secondly, as we can in today’s Gospel passage, it was a righteousness that was based on a faulty understanding of the Law. As Jesus would say: “You have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith.” (Matthew 23:23). They focused on the letter of the Law and left out the Spirit and by so doing, they exalted the tradition of the elders over and above the very commandments of God.
For their refusal to recognize Jesus as God, they sought ways to find fault with Him and on this occasion, they accused Him of impiety by not washing his hands before eating. Jesus did not say whether or not it is wrong to wash your hands before eating, instead, He used the occasion to point out how they often transgress the commandments of God in an attempt to honour their cultural practices thereby offering mere lip service to God.
Jesus explained that it is not what one eats or how one eats that defiles him. Instead, it is the content of one’s heart that defiles a person. If we seek to be pure, the washing must first begin within our very heart. This is the kind of washing God promised the children of Israel in today’s first reading. “You shall (once again) be my people and I will be your God.”
Today, we celebrate the life of the priest Saint John Vianney. In his story, we see once again that God is a God of second chances. We may be weak, but God never gives up on us. John Vianney struggled with his seminary studies, he lagged behind when others were far ahead but God gave him second chances. Eventually, we remember him today not because of his academic degrees, but because of his simplicity, devotion and love for souls. He is the patron of Parish Priests.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, may I be a channel of your love and compassion to the world. Amen.
Bible Study: Jeremiah 30:1-22, Psalm 102:16-23, Matthew 15:1-14).