22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B
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 positive and negative 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. Coming to the defense of his disciples, Jesus abolished the whole Jewish system of purity and revolutionized the laws regarding food. Some religions still prohibit specific foods and declare them unclean. Example: the Jews and the Muslims do not eat pork. 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.” For the Pharisees traditions became fossilized and rigid which hindered them from encountering God
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 top of the roof without falling down in 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 Eventually in the story, little by little those traditions were superseded by new forms of rituals by no other than Tevye’s daughters. 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 recent 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. The law has two components: the spirit and letter of the law. For the Pharisees what was more important was the letter of the law; for Jesus it was the spirit of the Law.
Our observance of the law is the minimum requirement but it doe not make us saints because the law still needs to be translated into concrete charity towards our neighbour. Yes we encounter God in the religious rituals but we see him face to face and touch him when the rituals are turned into good works!