Reflecting on the Gospel for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy, reflecting on Mark 7:1-8:

This passage regarding “human tradition” is sometimes cited against the Catholic understanding of the authority of Tradition together with Scripture as the rule of faith. But it is crucial to note that Jesus is not rejecting tradition per se, which becomes an important term in the early Church for the handing on of authoritative apostolic teaching (1 Cor 11:2, 23; 2 Thess 3:6). Rather, he is rejecting merely human traditions that are not based in God’s word, that in fact negate the intent of God’s word. Paul himself exhorted Christians to “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thess 2:15). The apostles handed down what they received from Jesus and the Holy Spirit first in oral form through their teaching and example, and later in the written form of the New Testament (see Catechism, 96・100). Indeed, the formation of the canon of Scripture was itself an exercise of apostolic tradition.

This passage is also sometimes cited in disparaging Catholic liturgical and devotional practices as mere “human traditions.” This misunderstanding is due in part to a real problem: religious practice is often superficial and routine among those who have not been adequately evangelized and whose faith fails to impact their choices and behavior in any significant way. Jesus is speaking about an attitude toward God that he saw in the scribes and Pharisees and that can be found among Christians in every church: the tendency to substitute religiosity for genuine obedience to God and his word. What is needed is a personal encounter with Jesus leading to a deep transformation of heart. When that occurs, religious practices come to life and serve their true purpose.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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