Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Dt 4:1-2, 6-8; Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
With cold and flu season around the corner, Mark's gospel hardly provides us with a helpful "What would Jesus Do" (WWJD) moment. One can almost imagine countless exasperated parents and health care professionals in the pews asking, why, why could Jesus not just affirm the value of washing our hands especially before handling food? There is a certain common sense wisdom contained in these practices, with hygienic benefit to individuals and communities. But more appears to be at stake here.
Presented in Mark's gospel account are two of varying attempts within the Jewish community to make sense out of life after the destruction of the Temple by the occupying imperial power of Rome. On some level, in this gospel Jesus and the Pharisees are each responding to that destruction and the threat that it posed to Jewish identities of the time. One proposal, as developed by some Pharisees, was to establish order in the disorder by affirming certain patterns and behaviors. These rituals in effect performed resistance in the face of overwhelming powerlessness. Perhaps in some ways, by shifting the washing rituals associated with the role of the Temple's priests into daily life, the Pharisees faced down imperial power. In other words, you may destroy what is sacred to us but it cannot stop us from making sacred our daily actions.
Mark's Jesus offers yet another contemporary response, one that insists that a faithful identity necessitates integrity of word and deed. Jesus does not dismiss the Pharisaic practice instead he draws attention to the internal disposition necessary for an embodied adherence to God's law. Observance of the commandments of God's law is lived in actions, and in the intentional avoidance of evils, among them "evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly." This posture too reflects resistance, resistance to participating in cycles of violence all too evident in the abuses of imperial rule.
Both the responsorial psalm (Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5) and the epistle of James (Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27) include other examples of behavior that represents an embodied "doing" of the word. James mentions care for orphans and widows. Psalm 15 cites among other things accepting no bribe against the innocent as well avoidance of slander and usury. To do justice to God's commandments means coherence between the talk and the walk.
It is appropriate that these texts appear in our liturgical cycle during ordinary time. Each response in Mark's gospel proffers insights into how the mundane participates in the sacred and how we are to live ethically, even in challenging times. In such responses there is resistance to powers that oppress and demean the dignity of life. These approaches are not mutually exclusive, they call forth creative living.
It is appropriate that these texts appear on the weekend that our secular calendar chooses to remember the mundane. On the first Monday of September, Labor Day, the United States federal government sets aside time to commemorate the daily actions of those who work. However in these challenging times, the U.S. Bishops remind us that "Work is more than a paycheck; it helps raise our families, develop our potential, share in God's creation, and contribute to the common good." In light of the gospel responses in Mark, Labor Day invites us to consider how our daily labor, our business practices and our workplace relationships do justice to God's commandments.
By Carmen Nanko-Fernández, Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry
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