Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Cleaning the Unclean by Rev. Paul Grankauskas
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

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 summoned the crowd again and said to then, "Hear me, all of you, and understand.  Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.

"From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.  All these evils come from within and they defile."

Imagine taking the time to wash and wax a car when the engine is missing or rusted out.  Sure the car would look great on the outside, but it still wouldn't go anywhere.  Or imagine painting over an entire house when the wood is infested with termites.  Sure the house would look good from without, but it is still corrupted and decaying.  These problems would obviously require more than cosmetic makeovers as solutions.

Today's Gospel presents us with an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees.  The latter are questioning Our Lord about his disciples: "Why do your disciples not follow the traditions of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?"  The text highlights other ritual purifications observed by the Jews.  It states that, on coming from the marketplace, they would not eat without purifying themselves.  They would also purify cups, jugs, kettles and beds.

Apparently these traditions were of great importance to the Pharisees, otherwise they would not be questioning Jesus about them.  The implication seems to be that the disciples are doing something wrong in neglecting them.

The disciples are somehow "unclean" themselves as a result.  Our Lord points out that these purifications are merely cosmetic or external and say little about a man's real moral character: "Nothing that enters one from the outside can define that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile.  From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, . . ."  Of greater importance, then, would be purifying one's self of these things. 

When we gather for Mass, we begin with a penitential rite.  During the "Confiteor" we strike our breasts and acknowledge that we have sinned through our own fault by what we have said and done and failed to do.  It is a humbling and perhaps frightening thing to acknowledge our sinfulness.  I may consider myself a good person, but the same soul that desires to do good is the same soul that often does what is evil.  I am responsible for choosing to sin.

It is true, however, that certain things can have a great influence on our actions.  Pornography distorts ones' view of the dignity of human beings and leads to sins of sexual impurity.  A recent editorial in the Washington Times spoke about a study regarding a connection between music with sexually explicit lyrics and teenagers' sexual behavior.  When I was a kid and saw "Star Wars" for the first time, I remember running around the yard pretending to be my favorite characters.  We can be influenced by what we see and hear.  We can thus understand the importance and need of interior mortifications, of guarding and governing the senses and the passions. 

We can and ought to go to Mass every Sunday, read the Word of God often, pray the rosary.  These things direct our minds and hearts to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  But, even these must be accompanied by real acts of self-denial and self-sacrifice.  Are we prepared to govern the passions, to take up the cross and really die to sin?

If not, our worship and devotions can become simple cosmetic makeovers focusing only on externals.  We cannot avoid the need for cleansing and purifying one's heart and mind as well.

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