Today is the last day of our three-week message series that we’ve been calling, FAQ: Faith Answering Questions. During Mass, we have been answering many of your inquiries about faith. But even as we’ve been exploring specific aspects of Church teaching, we’ve also been learning something about faith itself from the gospel stories over this same period.
In the first week, Jesus explains that he is the Bread of Life. While members of the crowd balk and grumble against him and even quarrel among themselves, he ultimately manages to lead his closest followers to greater faith through that uncomfortable process. In last week’s reading, many of his supporters abandon him because they cannot accept his claim that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. But Peter exemplifies the trust needed to grow in faith when he blurts out that only Christ has the words of eternal life.
We therefore have learned so far that faith grows through a process of questioning and doubt that eventually yields to trust in the credibility of the person of Jesus Christ. However, a third step that we learn about in this week’s gospel also is necessary for faith to increase.
The passage this week comes from a portion of the Gospel of Mark called the “Bread Section” (6:33-8:26), in which bread (artos) is referred to no fewer than seventeen times. Twice in this section Jesus miraculously feeds a multitude with a few loaves of bread and fish, each time followed by a conflict with the Pharisees that demonstrates their lack of understanding and then a healing that represents a growing comprehension of Christ and his mission. In today’s passage, the conflict is over the failure of Jesus’ disciples to wash their hands before eating.
The Pharisees, who were members of a renewal movement that advocated strict observance of the Law of Moses and frequently interpreted its precepts in exaggerated ways, asked why the disciples omitted the customary ritual cleansing. Jesus does not respond to the Pharisees directly because he knows that “their hearts are far from” him. Rather, he accuses them of hypocrisy, of being stage actors who observe religious laws merely for show.
The lesson here is that empty religious formalism devoid of authentic love will not lead to greater understanding of the Lord, but only a commitment to him from the heart. By setting aside the legal system of ceremonial laws, Jesus shows that God’s intention was never for the traditions of ritual purity to serve as their own end, but rather as symbols pointing beyond themselves to true purity of heart.
For our faith to grow, therefore, it is not enough to ask questions or even to trust in the answers given. We also must commit our lives and our very selves to Christ from the purity of our hearts and out of love for him.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson