"You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions."
The Word This Week
We now return to Saint Mark, for the rest of the year. The Gospel brings out one of the central problems of all religion: the way in which peripheral laws and customs gradually take over the more fundamental commandments, and the way in which “externalism” and a concern with superficialities gradually suffocates a true “internal” faith which is lived out. Here we see the angry Jesus: he calls them “hypocrites”, as he condemns their “worthless worship”. He teaches a central truth: it is what comes from within that determines whether we are clean or unclean, good or evil. The commandments of God, which Moses puts before the people with such great pride, become the source of justice when they are given a place in the heart. When other rules and regulations about how to wash and what to eat displace them, then they are stifled and justice is practised no longer.
Notes for Readers
The style of this passage is a formal declaration: Moses addresses the gathered people. This means that you, the reader, can put yourself in Moses’ place, and use his words; try to understand what he would have emphasised to his congregation, and do the same with yours. This is the formal presentation of the Law. It is important to realise that, though for us this Law is very ancient, at this time it was brand new. Moses is presenting something very new and significant to the people ‑ something that their neighbours do not have: a law from their God. Notice the urging tone ‑ especially in the phrase “Keep them, observe them...” where the repetition adds extra emphasis. There is a discrete note of triumph in Moses’ boast that no other nation has its gods as close as the Lord is to
Saint James is one of the most direct and blunt writers in the New Testament. He slashes his way through rhetoric and fine phrases to get to a simple truth and a practical application. Many readers particularly enjoy Saint James when he crops us, precisely because of his clarity and way of getting straight to the point. Today is a sort of prelude to this (though there is a wonderfully concise sentence at the end): James outlines his basic theory: God made us, and has given us everything that is god and perfect. One of these gifts is his “word” ‑ which means his Law, through Moses and through Jesus. James's clarity comes out in the line “But you must do what the word tells you...” Then comes the blunt message: the question is “What is true religion?” which many people would take pages and books to answer. James sorts it out in two lines: helping the poor, and not being “contaminated” by the world. In reading Saint James, make sure you talk to your Sunday congregation; look at them while reading, if this is possible. Ensure these words are not just heard, but received into the heart.
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