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How’s your health?

One of the important legacies of Vatican II is a renewed stress on the scriptures, to the extent that the council fathers said, “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

The Constitution on Divine Revelation tells us that the gospels are the principal witness for life and the teaching about the Incarnate Word, Jesus.

We need to listen to and read
that scriptures and Sunday Mass gives a great opportunity to do this, as over a three-year cycle we get a good cross section of the different ways various authors chose to record the living memory of Christ and the lived-out experience of the early Church.

The constitution points out, “The sacred authors wrote the four gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their Churches and preserving the form of proclamation, but always in such a fashion that they told us honest truth about Jesus.”

This week, the liturgy moves from the Gospel of St. John to
St. Mark. Mostly, his audience was not of the Jewish tradition, so he spends a lot of time explaining the meaning of Jewish customs to them, as Jesus was culturally imbued with them and to understand the point of many of his stories and parables, an appreciation of them is necessary for the reader as well.

In today’s readings, he is explaining about purification rituals, which played a big part in Jewish life.

However, in Jesus’ opinion, the religious leaders of the Jews, the Pharisees and the scribes, took the letter of the law to ridiculous and hypocritical extremes, hence losing the spirit of these customs.

So he quotes the prophet Isaiah to them, saying, “These people honour me only with lip service, while their hearts are far from me. They put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.”

He then makes a radical statement, as it was in direct contradiction to the religious wisdom of the time. He advised the people to look into their hearts, as it is not following laws and regulations that make people clean or unclean, but what is inside of them.

This is the starting point of the Year of Grace, Starting afresh in Christ.

To start afresh means to look with sincerity into ourselves and determine what is clean and what is unclean.

In the second reading, St. James gives us some practical advice. “You must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it… Pure, unspoiled religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this… coming to the help of orphans and widows when they
need it and keeping yourself uncontaminated by the world.”

St. James was a great man of faith in action, but once again a bit of background knowledge is needed to interpret his reflection.

Orphans and widows were traditionally the poorest people in society and Jesus used them as a yardstick with which to measure the social and religious health of a community.

He would say, look at how you care for your widows and orphans and you will understand how well you are following the teachings of God.