November 11, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today’s good news is from Mark 7:9-13.
He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ Yet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’ (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the world of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.”
The New American Bible defines qorban as “a formula for a gift to God, dedicating the offering to the temple, so that the giver might continue to use it for himself but not give it to others, even needy parents.” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary explains, “The recipient of the gift is God. By declaring property or money a gift to God, a son could remove any claim on it that his aging parents might have.” I’m having a hard time understanding why an adult child would do something like this unless he hated his parents for whatever neglect or abuse they may have inflicted upon him, real or imagined. But that’s beside the point that Jesus wants to make.
Barclay states the point clearly, “[T]here were cases in which the strict performance of the scribal law made it impossible for a man to carry out the law of the ten commandments. Jesus was attacking a system which put rules and regulations before the claim of human need. The commandment of God was that the claim of human love should come first; the commandment of the scribes was that the claim of legal rules and regulations should come first. Jesus was quire sure that any regulation which prevented a man from giving help where help was needed was nothing less than a contradiction of the law of God.”
It makes me think of the controversy surrounding our treatment of the unaccompanied minors who are crossing our southern border from their homes in Central America. Certainly our laws make it clear that they are criminals; they have broken our laws. There are two issues. One is how we treat them while they are in our country. Some communities have refused to allow them to be housed temporarily. Other groups have protested that they should not be enrolled in school or be supported through any of our social programs. The other issue is deportation, which means subjecting at least some of them to violence and possibly death back home. It seems to me that Jesus’ position is quite clear — God’s commandment to love trumps our laws.
That’s one of the things I’ve always admired about the Catholic Church and other denominations with a strong value of social justice. They put the human needs of people first before the law of the land. They provide medical treatment without insisting upon documentation to prove that someone is in this country legally. They feed and clothe. They put provisions in the desert where people are crossing the border to help assure that they don’t die of thirst. They are following the commands of the law, God’s law.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary observes about this passage, “What looks like pious behavior is actually a way of circumventing religious obligation.” That’s what incensed Jesus so much and why he called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites. We claim to be a Christian country and have one of the highest rates of church attendance in the world. Let’s be honest at least. Jesus would have a hard time looking at some of our behaviors as following his example and obeying God’s commandment to love one another. We can’t be both scribes and disciples of Jesus. We can’t nullify the word of God in favor of our laws without incurring Jesus’ judgment of us as pious hypocrites.
It starts with me, though. I have to consider another’s human need of care and love before my own ideology and scrupulousness. I have to admit that I don’t always do that. There are times when I am a hypocrite and even cover it with piety. Jesus is pushing me to be honest with myself first and then to respond to God’s commandment of love by attending to others’ need for care and respect. That is clearly my primary responsibility according to Jesus above my obedience to the laws of the Church or the laws of my country.