When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’
Then he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, “Honour your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.” But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban” (that is, an offering to God) – then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.’
The Pharisees and the scribes asked Jesus: Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders.
In recent times the Church has been called to reflect upon its own mortality. As secularism has gained a foothold in our society, the previously unassailable role of the Church has been questioned. The Church has become an sitting target for those who rank empirical evidence above faith. It cannot be denied that congregations in many parts of the country have diminished, just as it cannot be denied that some of the decisions taken by the leaders of the Church have been used as evidence against them when the Church has tried to reassert its traditional role as the ‘beating heart of our communities’. But, so often, the criticisms that are levelled at the Church, as an institution, have reflected the attitudes of the Pharisees and the scribes in today’s reading.
It is a common trait amongst human beings to spend a lot of their time looking over their shoulders, reflecting upon a ‘golden age’ when everything was just ‘as it should be’. The reality is that that ‘golden age’ is always based in myth and legend. That ‘golden age’ may have suited the one whose nostalgia is being preached at any particular time, but it is still the stuff of myth and legend … it simply is not truth!
When we dig down into the details of those legendary good times, we will inevitably find a realm of compliance and obedience; a time when children were ‘seen and not heard’; a time when there was an accepted hierarchy within each community; a time when everyone was decent, legal, honest and truthful. How can anyone believe that such a ‘golden age’ ever existed? Such ‘golden ages’ were based on compliance with and acceptance of man-made rules and regulations that established and maintained a status-quo. Such ‘golden ages’ had nothing to do with living the life of true faith through open acts of generous love and service, as commanded by Jesus Christ.
Today we are being urged to hold firm in the faith. We are being encouraged to join with those who are reflecting upon the life of the Church in the twenty-first century. We are being called to question those rules and procedures that may appear ‘holy’, but have nothing to do with living as Christ in this world. Let us pray that we might turn our backs on the myths and legends of the past and make the Church a real presence in the world today, and in the days to come.