Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 2 September 2012
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15:2-5; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
At Mount Sinai, the people of God were given a two-fold gift: gracious commandments to live by and the assurance of God’s presence in their midst. Both these aspects – dwelling in God’s presence and living a life of compassionate justice and truth – are reflected in Psalm 15. They are related, in fact, because how can God’s presence be said to be in our midst if the community is not characterised by righteousness and love?
Isn’t it ironic that those who had God in their midst in the form of Jesus could take offense because his disciples hadn’t washed their hands before eating? The way of life that took shape around the requirement to bear witness to God’s presence by loving God and neighbour has come adrift from its core purpose. Jesus calls them out on this. They are so concerned with the externals that they have forgotten the heart. They have shifted the goalpost. Instead of their religious observance setting them apart as a people holy to God, it is differentiating between the good and not-good-enough within the community. It is no longer the attractive witness that Moses imagined, but a legalistic burden. They are missing the point.
Righteousness is so much more than mechanical compliance to external laws. James speaks of the word being planted in us, giving birth to us; it is something fundamental about our being. The word gives birth to a life of purity and compassion for the weakest in society. It is possible to conform to the strictest standards of sexual purity and yet be thoroughly tainted by the world. The blind spot for many western Christians is the communal dimension of our ethics. We ignore issues of social justice on a national and global scale. Does the way we spend our time and our money, the way we vote, the causes we support, reflect God’s concern for the powerless and the marginalised? We may oppose abortion on demand, but have we unthinkingly bought into economic systems and patterns of power that contradict God’s commandments? Is the society we wish and work for just comfortable for us, or are we committed to living out the values of the Kingdom of God?