12 February. Tuesday in the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time
Gen 1:20ff. After forming man and woman to the divine likeness,God rested and blessed the seventh day.
Mk 7:1ff. Jesus brands it a crime to nullify the plain sense of God’s word by recourse to human traditions and practices.
First Reading: Genesis 1:20-2:4
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that hehad made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
Gospel: Mark 7:1-13
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,’This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God) – then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”
God’s resting place
Genesis continues to proclaim the sacredness of the created world, now extending to the creation of human beings. As the pinnacle of creation, according to the priestly author of this first chapter, God crowns his work by forming humankind to the divine image. Male and female – “in the image of God he created them.” While each other stage was “good”, the inspired author says that after creating humankind, God “found it very good.” Along with exalting the status of human beings as the pinnacle of creation, this text also suggests that the interplay of the sexes in marriage and the family becomes a significant image of God’s inner being, and here God must continue to be present.
After this ultimate of all works on the sixth day, God proceeds to “rest from all the work he had done” and so “blessed the seventh day.” This is not a withdrawal from his newly created world in order to rest, but rather God rests in the midst of all its beauty and goodness. The world is God’s true temple and church; the sound of wind and surf, thunder and birdsong are hymns of praise.
This background can throw light on today’s gospel, to understand why Jesus spoke as he did. He blames the Pharisees and [canon] lawyers for artificially setting aside God’s will [that we respect and appreciate the world, as blessed by God] “just for the sake of keeping your traditions.” To wash and clean our food before eating is of course good, but only done in a spirit of respect for others. But if it only leads to arguments and a better-than-thou attitude, it violates God’s will that we form a united human family made in his own likeness. The Bible is continually undermining the barriers we want to raise between one group and another. Jesus could not tolerate separations and class-distinctions that divide and split apart. Any who promote divisiveness need to examine if the warning applies to them: “This people pays me lip service but their heart is far from me.”