Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Doctrines Of Men: A Sunday Rumination

     And there assembled together unto him the Pharisees and some of the scribes, coming from Jerusalem. And when they had seen some of his disciples eat bread with common, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews eat not without often washing their hands, holding the tradition of the ancients: And when they come from the market, unless they be washed, they eat not: and many other things there are that have been delivered to them to observe, the washings of cups and of pots, and of brazen vessels, and of beds.
     And the Pharisees and scribes asked him: Why do not thy disciples walk according to the tradition of the ancients, but they eat bread with common hands? But he answering, said to them: Well did Isaias prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men. For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups: and many other things you do like to these.
     And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.

     [Mark 7:1-9]

     There have been many changes in Christian practice over the centuries, but one thing has continued from the time of Saint Paul all the way to the present day: the tendency among clerics, starting with Paul himself, to substitute their own preferences for the teachings of Christ.

     Jesus of Nazareth did not demand much. The Two Great Commandments, and the Ten that Moses received on tablets of stone, were all He asked of anyone. Yet just as politicians have strained to “reinterpret” the words of the Constitution to prescribe and proscribe as they prefer, so also have clergy of all Christian denominations meddled with the teachings of the Redeemer, such that the behavior they prefer to prescribe and proscribe somehow becomes what He wants.

     Jesus was quite willing that His followers should cast off the traditions of which the Pharisees were so protective. He and His disciples performed various labors on the Sabbath. They ate without first performing the ritual washing of hands. And He twice told those who would listen that His Father wants “mercy and not sacrifice:”

     And when Jesus passed on from hence, he saw a man sitting in the custom house, named Matthew; and he saith to him: Follow me. And he rose up and followed him. And it came to pass as he was sitting at meat in the house, behold many publicans and sinners came, and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And the Pharisees seeing it, said to his disciples: Why doth your master eat with publicans and sinners?
     But Jesus hearing it, said: They that are in health need not a physician, but they that are ill. Go then and learn what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice. For I am not come to call the just, but sinners.

     [Matthew 9:9-13]

     At that time Jesus went through the corn on the sabbath: and his disciples being hungry, began to pluck the ears, and to eat. And the Pharisees seeing them, said to him: Behold thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days.
     But he said to them: Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and they that were with him: How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the loaves of proposition, which it was not lawful for him to eat, nor for them that were with him, but for the priests only? Or have ye not read in the law, that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple break the sabbath, and are without blame? But I tell you that there is here a greater than the temple. And if you knew what this meaneth: I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: you would never have condemned the innocent. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath.

     [Matthew 12:1-8]

     Christ did not command Man to suffer. Yes, we grow old. Yes, we fall ill, or are injured. Yes, every one of us must die. But between birth and death there is no sort of privation or suffering which we are commanded to accept and endure for God’s sake. If privation or suffering can be averted or ameliorated – without breaking either of the Two Great Commandments or any of the Ten of the Book of Exodus – it is entirely within God’s law that we should do so.

     You could hardly discern that message from the traditional stories of the lives of the saints, nor from the preachments of Christian clerics, with few exceptions even today.

     The tales of the lives of saints are often filled with “penances,” even “severe penances.” Seldom are we told what these holy men were doing penance for. Indeed, we are often encouraged to believe that God is pleased when one of us performs a “penance,” regardless of whether he has sinned and requires expiation. While other Catholics might find this shocking, I will argue that to inflict privation or suffering upon oneself for any reason other than expiation of a sin is contrary to the will of God. For God designed Man’s life – body, mind, and soul – to be lived in accord with that design:

  • To seek the good things: learning, achievement, prosperity, love, progeny, wisdom, serenity, happiness;
  • To avert or ameliorate the bad things: poverty, pain, suffering, injury, loneliness, blasphemy, cruelty, injustice;
  • And to be grateful for the faculties He has given us for those purposes, and to praise Him for His blessings!

     But just as the easily understood words of the Constitution don’t make enough room for the ambitions of the venal and power-seeker, “Live in the fashion for which God has designed your body, mind, and soul, and give thanks to Him for His blessings” doesn’t leave enough room for the clerical power-seeker. Emanations and penumbras, anyone?

     Beware the man who seeks to persuade you otherwise. And may God bless and keep you all. Enjoy your Labor Day weekend.

1 comment:

Bill Sheffield said...

Very interesting take, Fran. Our Lord broke things down in simple terms. Unfortunately, the Scribes and Pharisees are with us today, mostly populating the Swamp.

This is fertile ground for a Thanksgiving discussion with my Never Trumper liberal relatives. My CSO cringes when I bring up religion or politics at such a gathering. Now I can combine both for a double whammy.

Bill