Today’s Gospel from Mark reminds us of what is truly important to God. The primary reason we are here is to worship God. Jesus saw that the religious leaders were more interested in the rules that governed religious observance and tradition than worshipping God. The Pharisees had become so fixated on rules that they had lost sight of what true worship means.
Jesus quotes from Isaiah directly to the Pharisees when he says, ‘This people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’ The most damning thing that can be said about someone’s worship is that the person’s heart is not in it. If this is so, worship has become merely lip-service. God does not want this type of worship, but rather that the person’s heart is in it.
The Pharisees ask Jesus why it is that his own disciples did not observe the tradition and rules around eating with unclean hands, and the correct way to wash cups and plates as outlined in the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus pointed out to them that they were more interested in the outside and of keeping up appearances than the inside. They were more interested in having clean hands than having clean hearts. The Pharisees prided themselves on being virtuous and looked down on everyone else. They were only concerned with enforcing rigorous rules without offering a hand to those in need to help lighten the burden.
We must always guard against becoming like the Pharisees. Replacing mercy with condemnation and placing appearance over substance. There is nothing wrong with tradition. The Church has a very rich tradition of worship. However, if we are present in our religious worship in voice only then our worship becomes mere lip-service. If our worship is not grounded in love for others and for God, then we become just like the Pharisees.
God does not judge us on how well we dress when we attend Church. Rather He judges us by what is present in our hearts. When we forgive, do we truly forgive from the heart or is our forgiveness just hollow words.
It is truly sad, when we meet those who consider themselves true followers of Christ because they observe all the tradition and ritual in the Church, but are lacking warmth, love, and mercy for those they consider
How can one call themselves a true follower of Christ if they harbour ill will because they consider an action or word done or spoken to be against what they consider to be the most important aspect of religious worship, adherence to the rules as they see them?
The Gospel places great emphasis on the heart, and the reason for this is that the heart is the source from which all our thoughts, words, and deeds flow. If the heart is clean and pure then everything that pours from it will be too. The Pharisees paid more attention to the outside than the inside. They were more interested in having clean hands than having clean hearts.
Only God can see what is truly in the heart, and only he can make our hearts into what they should be.