HOMILY THEME: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from
me.’” (Mark 7:6)

BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC



Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

In the gospel passage we hear today, we encounter Jesus revealing the hypocrisy of some of the Jewish leaders. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, “Jesus said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’” (Mark 7:6) What a stinging accusation against the Pharisees and lawyers who, though outwardly righteous, were unmindful of the darkness in their hearts and in their minds. Yet, in a trice, Jesus revealed to them and to the crowd gathered around just what lay below. Scripture scholar William Barclay comments on this passage. “There is no greater religious peril than that of identifying religion with outward observance. There is no commoner religious mistake than to identify goodness with certain so-called religious acts. Church-going, bible- reading, careful financial giving, even prayer do not make a person a good person. The fundamental question is: how is one’s heart toward God and toward one’s neighbor? And if in the heart there are enmity, bitterness, grudges, or pride, then not all the outward religious observances in the world will make one anything other than a hypocrite.” (William Barclay, “The Gospel of Mark”)

Let a Hasidic tale serve to illustrate further the lesson Jesus offers us today:

“Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Pshischah, called ‘the holy Jew,’ once ordered his senior disciple, Rabbi Simcha Bunem, to make a journey to a distant hamlet. When he inquired as to the purpose of the journey, the holy Jew remained silent.

“Rabbi Simcha Bunem took several Hasidim with him and left on the journey. The sky had already turned to dusk by the time they arrived at their destination. Because the town had no inn, Rabbi Simcha Bunem ordered his coachman to stop at the first cottage. He knocked at the door and was invited in along with his students. When they asked whether they could join their host for dinner, the man replied that he had no dairy food and could offer them only a meat meal.

“Instantly, the Hasidim bombarded the man with questions about his observance of kosher law. Who, they demanded, was the kosher slaughterer? Were the animal’s lungs free of even the smallest blemish, and was the meat salted sufficiently to draw out all traces of blood, as was required by law? The interrogation would have continued had not a commanding voice from the back of the cottage called out to them.

“They turned their attention from the owner of the home to a man dressed as a beggar sitting near the hearth smoking a pipe. ‘My dear Hasidim,’ the beggar said. ‘With regards to what goes into your mouths, you are scrupulous. Yet, regarding what comes out of your mouths, you make no inquiries at all!’

“When Rabbi Simcha Bunem heard these words, he knew the reason for this journey. He nodded respectfully to the beggar, thanked the householder for his concern, and returned to the wagon, saying to his students, ‘Come, we are now ready to return to Pshischah.’” (From “Tales of the Hasidim”)

Jesus puts the challenge before us today: Be a person of integrity. But even more—be a Christian of integrity, love of God and neighbor the deepest desire of our hearts, the most insistent proclamation of our lips.

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