Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Numbers 12:1-13; Matthew 15:1-2.10-14)

Catholic author Mary Eberstadt has written an article showing how contemporary youth have replaced their parents’ aversion to sexual activity outside marriage with distaste to eating unwholesome food. She argues that for many young adults today a date ending with fornication is not as odious as eating a whopper with bacon and cheese. This new mode of thinking turns on end what Jesus preaches in the gospel.

The Pharisees come to Jesus scandalized that his disciples would eat without washing their hands. Not knowing anything about microbiology, the Pharisees do have a sense of ritual purification before taking part in a meal which, after all, is sharing in God’s bounty. Jesus, however, knows the human heart. He recognizes that it provides fertile ground to concoct sin. He speaks of the mouth as the heart’s conduit so that sin passes from the heart through it to wrack mischief in the world.

We should not assume the Pharisees’ zeal with propriety about ritual cleanliness. But is all concern about food consumption misplaced? It is easy to see why drugs and excessive alcohol have always been forbidden. Some contemporary misgiving with fats and calories also seems like prudent attention to health. But there is usually room for tolerance in these matters. What Jesus duly emphasizes and what we must be intent on following is care for God and neighbor. The former deserves our daily praise. The latter, as God’s image, merits our constant respect.