Living the Gospel – September 2, 2018

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Dear friends,

I have to admit that I’m glad that the Church connected today’s readings for me – I hadn’t thought about how, in ancient times, tradition and scripturally-based scruples overlapped, and extended into every aspect of human life. I wondered – why was washing hands before a meal so important? Was it a matter of simple hygiene for people living in an area where healthy living was valued and water was in short supply? Or had a practical matter been extended by scholars and teachers into an elitist, ceremonial issue?

Of course, Isaiah said “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.” I should have caught on! Perhaps these Pharisees carried ceremonies too far and were ignoring the need to help transform the hearts of their people.

We don’t know who Jesus’ disciples were – those who didn’t wash their hands, that is. We don’t know where they were from or what work they had left before coming to eat. But I do think that we can safely assume that Jesus’ disciples were good people who weren’t spiritually defiled by not ceremonially washing their hands before dinner. Jesus made that clear when he said:

“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.”

Perhaps we can ask ourselves: Do we welcome people to the table of the Lord if they don’t know – or follow – all our customs or rules? Would we welcome them into our homes to join our family for a meal if their clothing is soiled and their hands unwashed?

Jesus invited both the “washed – and the unwashed” to His table. I believe that He still does. We simply need to be one of His disciples.

Dorothy Hathway Forbes, CSJA