When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)
Here they are: the scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem. They are not bringing their sick, like the Galileans in yesterday’s reading. So they are not vulnerable, they don’t have to bother about love. That clarifies their minds so that they can think about the law. Immediately they find fault and go into the attack. Shallow, Jesus called them: more concerned with external regulations than with the inner reality; more concerned with law than with the heart (in the Scriptures the heart is a symbol of the whole inner life of a person).
Briefly, the word ‘corban’ means ‘gift’. Anything brought to the Temple treasury was said to be ‘corban’ and could never again be put to secular use. Now, a rebellious son might say to his parents, “Any benefit or enjoyment you might have by me, I now declare it ‘corban’!” It meant that he was no longer bound to help or support them in any way! “So it frequently happened,” wrote St Jerome, “that while father and mother were destitute, their children were offering sacrifices for the priests and scribes to consume.” Jesus raged against this. “You abandon the commandment of God [the commandment to love and honour your parents] and hold to human tradition [corban].” For all their talk about God, religious lawyers can't cope well with God. God seems too concerned with individuals, and is therefore unpredictable. Love just muddies the pitch for lawyers.
It is pleasant to rail against these Pharisaical customs, but in the end I have to enquire what my own similar customs are.
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