Reading (1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30) Gospel (St. Mark 7:1-13)
In the readings today, we see that there are two different warnings we need to heed. First of all, we hear what Our Lord tells us, that it is easy for us to make into doctrine what is merely a human tradition. This is something we all need to be careful of because some of these traditions are perfectly reasonable and indeed very good. For instance, we hear that the Jewish people do not eat without washing their hands. Well, any mother would agree with that. And they do not eat until they have washed out the cups and kettles and things like that. Again, who would disagree with such an idea? Except that it became somehow worked into the religion and it became a matter of doctrine rather than just something that is reasonable to do. They take something which is human and elevate it to something which is divine. That is something we all need to be very, very cautious of, to keep things very clear. It is even clearer that the Pharisees and scribes understood it because they said, “Why do your disciples not follow the traditions of the elders?” They knew this was merely a tradition, yet at the same time they were putting it forth as somehow being the Word of God. And it was not.
But we tend to do the same thing. We have ways of weaseling around the Word of God in order to do other things, and we make other things more important than doing what God wants us to do. This, again, is what we need to be so careful about: to do what God tells us to do. We cannot pick and choose what we want to do from Scripture. We cannot pick and choose what we want to do from God’s Will, because there is something we like more, or it is something we have always done, or it has been passed down through the generations. If it is merely human, then that is all it is. But if it is of God, then that is something we need to keep as the priority.
That brings us right to the second point, that is, exactly what we hear in the first reading when Solomon goes into the temple he had built. Remember, we had seen that the glory cloud filled the temple, and so he goes into the temple and says to God, You keep your covenant of mercy with your servants who are faithful to you with their whole heart. That is the point. If we are going to be making human traditions into something divine and pushing aside what is divine in favor of what is human, we are not following God with our whole heart.
When we decide to get caught up into our own human things and our hearts stray from God, we see in Solomon exactly what happens. Here is a man who is zealous for the Lord. He builds a temple for God, he rejoices that the glory of God fills the temple that he had made, he goes forth and presents this beautiful prayer that we heard to the Lord, and then we know that as his life continued on he turned into quite a wretch and did all kinds of things that were completely in opposition to God, including offering sacrifices to idols and intermarrying with people that God had forbidden, and all the other things that he was explicitly forbidden in Scripture to do. But it was politically astute – once again, trading in what is divine for what is human and deciding that politics is more important than what God’s Will is.
So that is the thing we have to be careful about, because otherwise, as Our Lord says, This people gives Me lip service, but their hearts are far from Me; whereas we hear from Solomon that it is for those who are faithful to God with their whole heart and when that is the case that God is going to keep His merciful covenant with them. We have laid out for us exactly what we need to do, to serve God and be faithful to Him with our whole heart. And we see exactly how we can stray from that, and that is by making human things more important than divine things. So if we are going to be able to do what we are supposed to, we have to have our priorities right: to serve God with our whole heart by doing precisely what it is that He has told us to do.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.