Do not Deify Symbol and Identity!

Weekly Missionary Reflection
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 29 August 2021

Deut. 4:1-2,6-8; Ps. 15:2-3a,3cd-4ab,5; Jam. 1:17-18,21b-22,27; Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

“Clean-unclean” is an old phenomenon but is always new. The Mosaic Law has rules on clean-unclean, which are made in detail in various commands and prohibitions. Today’s Gospel tells us about this topic. The disciples of Jesus were blamed for violating the tradition of the ancestors, because they ate without washing their hands. This was not about hygiene but about a religious obligation. Their hands had to be washed, as they might have touched something or someone unclean. In the argument of “clean-unclean”, there are some points that Jesus concerned.

First, for Jesus, Judaism in His day was too formal and ritualistic. Jesus quoted the criticism of the Prophet Isaiah: “This people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me”. In addition, religion had become too focus on signs and symbols of identity. Clean-unclean was part of politic identity. Outer markers of Jewish people were clearly from food (clean-unclean), physical sign (circumcision) and rhythm of time (Sabbath and other holidays). It was the religious leaders who governed everything, especially the experts of Law (the scribes) and the best practitioners of the Law (the Pharisees). Clean-unclean was a matter of distinguishing marker and human power to retain the distinction. This is what Jesus disagreed: rules of religion should not be multiplied for the sake of being different and creating the separation line. Followers of Jesus should not be busy with the outer things that get into our body (Mark. 7:2). Jesus, on the other hand, emphasized that all foods are clean (7:17-19), it means no food can defile His followers.

Second, as all foods can go into a faithful person without defiling him, so can everyone go into the network of Jesus’ followers without defiling the group. The things that come out from within are what defile (7:14-23). Jesus puts moral integrity above bodily perfection. The identity marker of His followers is their moral behavior and self integrity. The Church of Christ should build their identity in faith and moral behavior (love, solidarity, justice, peace, integrity of creation, etc), not in outer attributes, flags and signs.

Third, the Pharisees and Scribes tried to defend and keep the holiness by avoiding the source of uncleanness. But Jesus did the other way around: impurity can be defeated by sharing with as many people as possible (just as in the scene before, He fed 5000 people!), by accepting those who are considered unclean (the sick, lepers, unbelievers, sinners, etc). Jesus’ preaching is expansive: sharing and expanding the kindness and holiness of God to as many people as possible. Therefore, the Church of Christ should be always presenting the independent and open characteristic of Church. “Open” means being ready to be involved in cooperation with different communities to share the virtue and love to as many people as possible. We do not need to waste time in monitoring borders and gates of our community, or to keep on nurturing the distinction and deifying the symbol of identity.

(Hortensio Mandaru – Indonesia Bible Society, Jakarta)

DAILY DEDICATED PRAYER

Lord, our Father, I present my today prayer, thought, word, work, joy and sorrow in the unity with Your Son, Jesus Christ, who always presents Himself in the Eucharist for the world salvation. May the Holy Spirit, as the soul of Jesus, also lead and give me the strength today so that I am ready to be the witness of Your love.

Together with St. Mary, Mother of Jesus and the Church, I specially present my prayer to our Pope and Indonesian Church prayer apostles of this month:

For Evangelization intention:
Church: Let us pray for the Church, so they can receive the grace and power from Holy Spirit, to renew themselves in the light of Gospel. We pray …

For Indonesian Churches intention:
Tackling the problem of racism: May the government be blessed with clarity of heart and mind in guiding the public for not being easily provoked by the issue of social, culture and race difference. We pray …

Special Intention for the year of St. Joseph:
Let us join St. Joseph to get the Spirit of Humility, in order to be able to surrender ourselves to Your will in true freedom. We pray…
Amen

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