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Mark 7:14-15

Gospel Lectio Divina for Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 29, 2021

By David Kilby



Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.—For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. —So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:

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.

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “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.”


And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds

There was nothing wrong with the traditions, but the Pharisees and scribes were missing the point of them. Jesus knew they performed the customs to receive honor in their community, not because they feared the Lord, loved him, and trusted his commandments. The disciples, on the other hand, probably just forgot to wash their hands before eating, kind of like how a faithful Christian may sometimes simply forget to say grace, but otherwise leads a faith-filled life. A momentary relapse in practice is not as dire to the soul as superficial observance of religious customs. In other words, forgetting to say grace is not as bad as saying it without meaning any of the words. The latter is what the Pharisees and scribes were doing, in essence, in regards to the Jewish customs of washing and cleansing oneself. Jesus knew this, and he also knew that his disciples’ faith and love for him were genuine. It’s easy to follow these customs, but they were mainly in place to point to a deeper truth about the faith, and this was the point the Pharisees and scribes were missing. What’s difficult is living the genuine faith that deeper truth points to. In this case, washing before meals symbolizes the cleansing of our souls before the banquet of heaven. The Jewish customs of washing hands before meals is an archetype for how we ought to cleanse our souls before we leave this earth and meet God. The same could be said about the Mass, which is the heavenly banquet on earth. We’re supposed to cleanse our souls through confession before we receive the heavenly meal of the Eucharist. 

“you hypocrites”

Jesus comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. In Pope Francis’ General Audience August 25, 2021, he pointed out how there is still hypocrisy in the Church today. He said “Hypocrisy in the Church is particularly detestable, and unfortunately ... there are many hypocritical Christians and ministers.” It’s easy to think of other people when we hear words like this, but I’ve learned to take them to heart and ask myself if I’m being hypocritical in my faith life. Am I even leading a life of faith or is my heart actually far from God? He does speak to us. If we would simply turn our ears to listen and not turn away when we hear something we don’t like, or recognize something we don’t want to see, he will lead us past the hard parts and to deeper truth. It may be hard to notice, but Jesus loves even these hypocritical Pharisees and scribes. He still loves me even when I’m acting like a hypocrite. Like a good father who admonishes his son when he does something wrong, Jesus is admonishing the hypocrites because he loves them and wants them to get in touch with the deeper truth in their hearts. 

“their hearts are far from me”

Regarding the heart, the Catechism says:

The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live ... the place "to which I withdraw." The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant (CCC 2563).

It’s no wonder Jesus is so concerned about the hearts of these hypocrites. Our hearts are where God speaks to us. It’s our personal connection to him. The Pharisees and scribes shut down that connection in favor of the opinions of others. How often do I ignore what’s pressing on my heart in favor of the world’s pressure and appeal?

“All these evils come from within and they defile.”

Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a pearl a man found in a large field. Seeing the value of the pearl, the man sells everything he owns and buys the field. When we continue to pursue the enticements this world offers after discovering the kingdom of God, it’s like holding onto our possessions after discovering that precious pearl. Soon we will find that those worldly pursuits lead to a dead end. Then we notice at the end of the road God is waiting and saying the things he’d been saying all along, but we didn’t want to listen. 

The Pharisees and scribes sought honor, an enticement of the world. One can blame the world for the way it entices, but ultimately the decision to sin is our own. That is what Christ means when he says evil comes from within. It comes from our own free will. The evils of the world are there for our taking, but we are the ones who pick them up. Let’s pass them by and search for the pearl of great price instead.  

When the Lord reveals an intimate truth to us, the satisfaction is more fulfilling than anything this world has to offer. Sometimes we need to run away to notice that. If you’re feeling like your faith is getting dry and monotonous and losing its meaning, causing you to lose heart, or if you just feel like your heart isn’t in it anymore, try changing it up a bit. Short of committing mortal sin, sometimes it’s wise to stretch our religious boundaries a little in hopes that we will notice God’s handiwork in a different light. Maybe pray a different prayer than you usually do, or pray in a different way or a different time of day. Try reading the writings of a saint you’ve never read before or haven’t read in a while. Maybe go to a different parish for Mass. The Pharisees and Sadducees stayed in their comfortable lives of religious customs and didn’t question their conduct. They weren’t looking to expand their interest in God. They didn’t question what was on their hearts and they lost touch with what they were doing and why they were doing it. If our faith becomes dried up like theirs did, let’s try to think of creative ways to make it come a live again. 


Lord Jesus,

You’re right, as always. A healthy spiritual life requires that I take a good look at my heart and examine my motivations. For all the times I’ve been a hypocrite, I repent. It’s so easy to get distracted by the motivations of this world, and so hard to keep my eyes on heaven when I let those distractions take over my life. Please help me keep my eyes on you so I can remember the truth and how it appeals to my heart. There is nothing in the world that compares to the way you speak to it. In Jesus’ name I pray. --Amen. 


The Lord our God is here listening to our prayers. It’s so easy and tempting to be swayed by the influences of the world and favor its voice over God’s. When we are quiet, what do we hear? Do we hear someone else’s words or God’s. What do you hear that no one else but God has said to you? What part of todays’ Gospel stands out the most? Is there any part that leads you to think of another part of Scripture? Is there a part that leads you to think of something that has happened in your life recently? Sometimes God speaks through other people. Sometimes he speaks through events. None of it is isolated though. He backs up what he says and does with his word, the Scriptures. That’s why it is so important to familiarize ourselves with his word, because through it God speaks to us in ways we will not notice if we are not familiar with it. 

Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.
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