Strange as it may sound some verses from each of the OLD TESTAMENT [DEUTERONOMY 4: 1 – 2. 6 – 8] and GOSPEL [MARK 7:1 – 8. 14 – 15. 21 – 23] READINGS bring to mind a verse from ISAIAH {54: 2 – 3a}. “Enlarge the limits of your home, spread wide the curtains of your tent; let out its ropes to the full and drive the pegs home; for you shall break out of your confines right and left …” {personal comment = is this not exactly what Pope Francis’ message and challenge attempts to achieve?}

Now take a look at words from the Deuteronomy reading says “surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” It then goes on to ask a question – “for what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us?” So, two matters really challenge us as members of Christ’s Body, the Church. First of all are we, do we really want to be, a wise and understanding people? Secondly, do we firmly believe that our God is near to us – with us through thick and thin – that he is a faithful travelling companion along the road of discipleship? (NEAR and WITH) Then, in Mark’s extract of the Gospel we hear Jesus quoting the prophet Isaiah. “This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” The Lord then adds something of his very own. “You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.” In addition let us not overlook Jesus words about the supreme importance of what comes out of a person.
To all of this we could profitably add words from TODAY’S NEW TESTAMENT READING [JAMES 1: 17 – 18. 21b – 22.27]. Here the apostle refers to “the Father of lights” who “of his own will … brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

Now let us look at the scribes and Pharisees of today’s Gospel. However, we must not remove ourselves from this examination. Most of the scribes were Pharisees who adhered to the strict interpretation of the law. It would be a mistake to think that all the scribes were opposed to Jesus. In fact we know a number of them were among the first converts to Christianity. However, many saw the Lord as a threat to the integrity of the law – and in many respects the law was obeyed by a slavish observance of external rituals. So, we must recall Jesus’ words that the scribe who was learned in the kingdom of God brings out old and new treasures.

{see Matthew 13:52}
Now we may reflect on the value and challenge of both quotations from Isaiah. “Enlarge the limits of your home, spread wide the curtains of your tent; let out its ropes to the full and drive the pegs home; for you shall break out of your confines right and left …” Then we add the prophets words quoted by Jesus himself. “This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” At once we are faced with the tendency of so many faithful Catholics to be passive and static members of the Church – married ‘until death do us part’ to external observances, rituals and the strict interpretation of the law. Old treasures we value must really be treasures and not merely customs which are no longer productive.

We are supposed to be a wise and understanding people who are the first fruits of his creatures. Our God has brought us forth by the word of truth. It achieves little, if anything, to be fixated on methods of sowing the seed in good soil which are no longer adequate to contemporary needs and challenges. We must break out of our confines right and left.

It is interesting to remember that the third Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs prays “grant that all the faithful of the Church, looking into the signs of the times by the light of faith, may constantly devote themselves to the service of the Gospel.” So today’s scripture readings call us to move away from maintenance to MISSION ministry – at the service of the Gospel. This means a primary focus on EVANGELISATION – on making ourselves gospel disciples of Jesus Christ, and presenting the good news in such a way that it becomes appealing and attractive to the world in which we live. As TODAY’S PSALM [15] tells us – “to speak the truth from the heart (and) we shall never be shaken.”

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