The Pharisees and their scribes who know both the original laws of Moses and those added to by the “elders” or rabbis during the centuries, question Jesus about His disciples’ not observing exactly the traditions. The Pharisees have the evidence of the non-conformity of the disciples and so there is a tension and a teaching moment.
The outside actions are important for personal and communal well being. What Jesus is laboring for us to understand is that the outward is to be a reflection and display of the inner relationship with the Holy God. Then these actions will be holy themselves, because of that interior relationship. External actions by themselves are nothing but external actions. We are inside-out human beings and Jesus states things very clearly. What makes a person unclean is not from outside, such as not washing one’s hands or face, but the uncleanness is inside already and as long as that is not tended to, unclean actions will display the inner disorder. Jesus describes quite a list of human tendencies toward evil and disorder. Most of us have experienced the attraction we have to such evils. Take your pick, you do not have to look up in a dictionary the definitions of these basic human tendencies. Jesus is saying that they lie within us and washing cups and hands will not remove the reality of our human fragmentation. The “elders” have piled up so many externals that the observance of them had become what religion was. The external became disconnected with the interior relationship which is the basis of holiness.
Showing-off is different from showing-out. External religious actions do help our interior relationship with the transcendent God. Jesus labors to bring order into the human experience of being human. Israel was to take possession of its new land. Jesus work of salvation is to assist us to take possession of ourselves as His new land. Jesus has described the disordering forces which are part of our personal and communal lands. Greed, theft, murder, and various forms of envy are parts of the human land. We are not abandoned to these forces, but accompanied by God’s grace through the saving laboring of Jesus.
Here at our university it is a cause of delight to notice the changes, externally, of some of our male students when they have “fallen in love” with a female student. Their externals are quite cleaner in clothing and language, more gentle of gestures and more smiley of countenance. Their former externals were not always so gracious which were expressions of less relationality. Jesus courts us and heals us from sad, lost, violent, and ungrateful interiors. He extends to us the desire of God to relate, love, and bring us into the new land of holiness. This holiness does express itself in outward activities, just as our love-struck sophomores express themselves as having been in love. Jesus’ Labor Day is every moment and our laboring days reflect His permanent loving relationships of salvation. He subdues our personal interior enemies and brings us from the inside to the out of showing Him out.
“O Lord, how great is the depth of the kindness which you have shown to those who love you.” Ps. 31,20
Larry Gillick, SJ