22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B
Whatever religion we may be, faith is always expressed in external signs most especially through rituals. A ritual is a solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order in the liturgy. Through this religious ceremony we are able to enter into the realm of the divine hence we become connected to God. Eventually the rituals become part of a religious tradition.
The Ten Commandments which express God’s Law takes centrality in the lives of the Jews. The Pharisees with their best intentions to observe the Law extended them into 613 commandments. Some prescriptions on purity which were originally meant for the priests in the temple were now extended to the people, like the washing of hands before eating or the washing of cups and pots, etc. These laws on purity were meant to remind the Israelites to be faithful to God and not be contaminated by paganism. The Pharisees noticed that the disciples of Jesus were not following the Jewish rituals. For the Pharisees traditions became fossilized and rigid which hindered them from encountering God.
Coming to the defense of His disciples, Jesus abolished the whole Jewish system of purity, most especially regarding food. Some non-Christian religions still prohibit specific foods and declare them unclean. For Jesus, no food that enters the body can make a person unclean but rather it is the heart that makes a person unclean: “Nothing that goes into someone from outside can make that person unclean; it is the things that come out from someone that make that person unclean.”
This gospel invites us to examine our consciousness as regards our attitude towards traditions and rituals. In the opening of the movie/musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, Tevye declares that everyone is a fiddler on the roof and the reason we are able to stay on the roof without falling down and maintaining our balance is tradition. Eventually in the story, little by little those traditions were superseded by new forms of rituals by no other than Tevye’s daughters. So traditions in themselves are good because they preserve us from social chaos and we are able to preserve the wisdom of the past. But they should not hinder us from welcoming the innovations and surprises of the future. This is the reason why Vatican II updated the Church (the aggiornamento) to meet the demands of the future and re-invented herself to the form that she is today. Concrete examples of changes are the celebration of the Mass with the priest facing the people using the vernacular and the most recently translation of the English New Roman Missal.
Rituals are also good because through them we are able to express the depth of our faith. But they become only a lip service when they do not conform with the true status of the heart. That is why between the spirit and letter of the of the law, the former is more important. For the Pharisees what was more important was the letter of the law; for Jesus it was the spirit of the Law.
Something of the old and the new are within us. What really balances us is Jesus! Because of Him, we are able to stand on top of the roof of our lives without falling down. He makes us all “fiddlers on the roof.”