Why Exactly Are You Doing This?
#WhyExactlyAreYouDoingThis is the podcast for September 2, 2018. Lice, nits, Pharisees, and Jesus cause us to ask, “Why Exactly Are You Doing This?” Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Mark7 #Mark #Pharisees #Healing #Nits #Lice #Torah #Mishnah #Talmud
Full Text of Podcast (For Our Deaf and H/H Brethren)
For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 9/2/2018 The 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.
Have you ever gotten lice? Or, has one of your children ever gotten lice? Contrary to popular opinion, lice love clean heads. Lice do not carry diseases and are a human parasite. They are particular to us. Lice do not originate because someone is dirty or doesn’t take care of themselves. Although, the aforementioned conditions do encourage the lice to grow. People get lice from head to head contact with someone who already has them, or from sharing brushes, hats, etc. (healthline.com).
Getting rid of lice can be a time consuming and aggravating thing.
First of all, even if you do not have lice, if your children are exposed to them, then your head will itch anyway. You will be vacuuming, shampooing everyone’s hair with awful smelling stuff, taking all the sheets off of beds and washing them, and putting stuffed animals and pillows into bags with a human safe pesticide. Lastly, you will be spending a lot of time searching for and picking the nits, which are the lice eggs, out of hair. It is a tedious task. No one I know likes to bother to deal with these pesty little things.
This is the origin of the term, “nit picker” and “nit picking”. It means that you are going after the stuff that no one wants to deal with and taking time to go after a small thing to look for in the larger context. Pharisees, who show their ugly presence in our Gospel today, are nit pickers.
Pharisees are actually lay people. They are a result of a split between the way that the Torah was interpreted. The Sadducees were clergy who interpreted the Torah strictly and applied it strictly. The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed that there was an oral tradition that could be used to interpret the Torah. The Pharisees “harmonized the teachings of the Torah with their own ideas” or saw their own ideas as being harmonized in the Torah. (Britannica.com). It is from them that we have the Talmud, or the written interpretation of the Law of Moses which started as the oral tradition. The Pharisees were scholars who interpreted the Law and ‘kept it relevant’. Their following and notoreity among the lay people of the Jews was huge in Jesus’ day.
Enter Jesus. He has just come from Gennesaret where the lay people were bringing the sick and disabled on pallets and laying them before Jesus. Jesus also teaches with authority. He has fed 5,000, healed the sick, and taught them. So, the people are now following Jesus in droves.
When you read the Gospel of Mark like it were a novel, instead of like a deeply religious profound text, this placement of the Pharisees in the midst of Jesus doing his thing is striking. It is clear by now that Mark is showing us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Torah and that he is the Messiah. It would seem that the Pharisees would see this because they are deeply devoted to studying the Torah. They are the kings of nit picking to ensure faithful keeping of the Law. Yet, when the Messiah appears and the people follow him, the Pharisees only have one question, “Hey, buddy, why aren’t your followers washing their hands?”
It IS understandable that the Pharisees are tripped up by Jesus. We all hate the good looking captain of the cheerleading squad who is ALSO the winner of the Science Olympiad (Who gets to have the looks AND the smarts! Why is THAT allowed?). Additionally, the name “Pharisee” does come from the Hebrew word that means “separated, or pure”. Their name connotes clean v. unclean. So, the issue comes into full view. Their presence begs the question, “What makes something ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’? The Pharisees would say by an outward imposition of the Law.
This is where Christ puts the whole enterprise of what is clean and unclean on its head. He declares that it is not the blood in the meat, nor the way that we use the object, it is intent of those who use it that makes it unclean. Intent is huge for us Christians, especially Catholics.
What is the intent of a crucifix? Is it to have the crucifix be god among us? No. It is to ‘proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again’, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:26. It is a visual form of the Scriptures. What is the intent of having the priest dress like I do at Mass? It is to have a visual representation of Christ in our midst as a priest in the order of Melchizedek, as in Hebrews 7 and Psalm 110. What is the intent of abstaining from some foods and not others? Is it to honor God or to make ourselves look good, or feel more important?
In the case of the Pharisees against Jesus, the question could and, I feel, should be asked: “Why exactly are you doing this?” Why are you asking this question right now? Why are you coming at Jesus, following him, and questioning him? Is it to show how the Messiah has come or to show that he is false and they are the true interpreters of the Torah?
In the parts of this passage that are not included in the Gospel reading for this Sunday, even the disciples do not understand. They need to be taught that Jesus comes to make all things new. There are no longer any unclean foods, but there are unclean intentions. No longer is salvation through what goes into the stomach, but what comes from the heart. No longer is circumcision of our outward body part the sign, but the circumcision of the heart that is the guide and emblem of our faithful following of God.
Does this mean that our religious observances are no longer relevant or that doing good is no longer relevant? Not at all! It means our motivation for what we do is what is important. If someone is cut to the heart about their love for God, I can guarantee you good things will follow. If they are not concerned with God, but their own interests, then we are not ensured that there is a possibility of correction or good intent. It may be there, but we are not certain.
Look at all the things that flow from a heart that is self-focused: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. Of these, we can see in this passage envy, slander, and pride, chief among them on display. We could look at this and say, “Lord, thank you that I am not like those Pharisees,” but are we not?
The best question we can ask ourselves at the end of the day, as we review all that we have done, is “why exactly did I do that?” It is the question that goes to the heart of our heart. If we [go to church] come here and we honor God through our actions, through our prayers, through our art, through our singing, then we honor the Lord. If we do our service to the poor, those in prison, those who are sick, with the intent that we are doing God’s work on earth, then who is to question? There will be no question. If, the Lord forbid, we are accused of doing it for ill intent, we will know and God will know.
One last thing, when we are doing things because we love God and nothing else, then we do not need to nitpick. We are done with the parasites of evil. We are embracing the mission of God. That is what we need. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2018.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian