Like Incense

“Like Incense”
A reflection on Mark 7:1-13 and Psalm 141:2
Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
©2022 by Gloria M. Chang

Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.) So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;

In vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.’

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ Yet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’ (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.”

Mark 7:1-13

The goal of religion is to become one with God who is simple, whole, and integrated. Rituals, ceremonies, and external observances exist to elevate the whole person towards the love of God and neighbor. When they become ends-in-themselves, worship degenerates into hollow actions with insincere words. Hearts and lips go out of sync. 

Jesus, whose every thought, word, and action proceeded from his union with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lamented the hypocrisy and fragmentation of the scribes and Pharisees. 

David the Psalmist united his heart and lips with the rising incense at the altar of sacrifice as an acceptable offering to the Lord.

Let my prayer be incense before you;
my uplifted hands an evening offering.

Psalm 141:2

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