At the beginning of every Mass, we engage in what is called the “entrance rite.” There are several different ways to perform this rite, but the most common entrance rite is to pause and consider our own faults, failings and sins. After we have taken a little time to think about them, we then praise God for the gift of mercy. “Lord Jesus, you came to call the sinner,” to which we respond “Lord, have mercy.” A more literal translation of the Greek “Kyrie eleison,” would be “The Lord is merciful.” We are not asking for mercy so much as acknowledging that God is merciful.
The Jewish Temple ritual also began with an entrance rite which we know of today as Psalm 15. We use that psalm as our responsorial psalm today. Psalm 15 lists ten behaviors or attitudes which are necessary before a Jew could enter the Temple and worship God. They are:
1. He walks without blame, doing what is right. (Summarizes the nine to follow)
2. He speaks truth from the heart
3. He does not slandering a neighbor
4. He does no harm to another
5. He never defames a friend
6. He disdains the wicked
7. He honors those who fear the Lord
8. He keeps and oath
9. He levies no interest
10. He accepts no bribes.
These ten statements about what it means to be a person worthy of entering the Temple are not so much an examination of the conscience as they are a statement about what the good Jewish person will do in the future. It points the person who is desirous of worshipping God in the right direction.
The Book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book of the Jewish Torah. In it Moses completes the task of teaching the people of Israel what God asks of them in their covenant relationship. The name of the book literally means “the second Law.” The law has already been written down in the Books of Exodus, Numbers and Leviticus. However, Moses realizes that he will not be crossing over the Jordan River to enter the Holy Land with the Israelites. So he makes them camp on the banks of the river and teaches them the Law one more time. He begins by saying that no one should presume to add to or subtract from God’s Law.
Today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark features the first time that the Pharisees and the scribes join forces to criticize Jesus and his disciples. What do they criticize him for? They notice that Jesus and his disciples do not follow the traditional way to share food at the table. They bring up the fact that they don’t perform the customary ablutions that have become ordinary behavior among the well-to-do Jews. Instead they eat and drink as the ordinary country folk of the time who work and often eat outside on the hillsides while watching their flocks or working in the fields. The Pharisees and scribes refer to such people as “sinners” for their failure to follow these customs. They have, it would seem, added to the laws of the Torah by making custom into Law. Jesus responds to this criticism by calling them “hypocrites,” men who speak the Law but violate it in their hearts.
The Pharisees and scribes are the guilty ones, not those who fail to rinse off their hands and their dishware before eating. They have imposed social barriers between the wealthy and the poor on the basis of custom while ignoring the Law, the Law that asks us to love God and to love our neighbor. Jesus and his disciples are criticized because their behavior shows that they identify with the common, ordinary folk, rather than the wealthy and powerful Jewish elite. In responding to the criticism, Jesus levels his own criticism against them by accusing them of a catalogue of sins: evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
As we approach the altar today to participate in the Body and Blood of Jesus, both the list of behaviors in Psalm 15 and the catalogue of sins that Jesus enumerates in the Gospel are a good starting place for each of us to examine whether we are worthy disciples of Jesus or whether we might fit in better with the Pharisees and scribes.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator