Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 30, 2015
MK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Whenever I read this Sunday’s Gospel passage, I think of an experience I had while studying in Jerusalem. An Israeli woman, the administrative assistant to one of my professors, graciously invited me to her home to share in a traditional Sabbath meal. She lived in a settlement surrounded by Palestinian neighborhoods and when giving me directions to her home, warned me that I should not walk the short distance, but that I needed to take a taxi. At first, I thought that she was concerned that I observe the Sabbath law prohibiting work, which, strictly interpreted, precludes even walking significant distances. But she went on to make it very clear that it would be dangerous for me to walk through the Arab neighborhood in order to visit what amounted to an “Israeli island.”

When Friday evening finally arrived, the “Sabbath rush hour” was in full swing as I set out for my friend’s home. It was literally impossible to find an available taxi. So, I kept walking towards my destination, trying in vain to hail a cab. When I finally reached the invisible border between the ethnic neighborhoods, I simply kept walking. I arrived at her door a little late and made my excuses, that, for want of a taxi, I had no choice but to walk. She was horrified!

She proceeded to explain, in not so gentle terms, how reckless and foolish I had been to disregard her advice and walk through such a dangerous neighborhood, especially since I was “not carrying a gun!” Her description of and remarks about her Palestinian neighbors were venomous and shocking. Her hatred was so intense and personal that I asked if she, herself, had been assaulted. “Well, no,” she said, “but…” continuing on with more of the same. When she finally calmed down, regaining her composure, she became a most delightful hostess, “presiding” at a traditional Sabbath meal, much like a priest presiding at Eucharist. The dinner table was covered with an immaculate cloth and set with fine china and crystal. There was an arrangement of fresh flowers on the table and candles as well. She led the beautiful Sabbath prayers and graciously served a delightful meal, into which she had clearly put forth great effort. It was very much a “sacred banquet.” But I must tell you that I recall very little of the details of that Sabbath evening. However, her words, her tone, and the almost tangible hatred in her outburst with which the evening began are fresh in my mind after over 20 years. One can’t help but wonder how God received her prayers moments after such a dramatic outpouring of racial prejudice and hatred.

When the evening came to a close, she left the room to call me a taxi. Trying to be a helpful guest, I took the opportunity to clear the table. When she came back into the room, she seemed a little “stunned” by the fact that the dishes were all removed. My ride appeared and off I went.

Sunday is the first day of the work week in Israel. My “Sabbath hostess” did not appear for work. I later learned that she had to take the day off to “ritually purify” her kitchen. Being an observant Jew, she felt compelled to remove every single item from every drawer and cabinet and thoroughly clean EVERYTHING, because, in my misguided efforts to help, I had mingled foods that should not touch each other, rendering her kitchen impure.

This week’s Readings call us to contrast RITUAL PURITY with sincere and heartfelt SPIRITUAL PURITY. Can someone host a truly holy Sabbath celebration while harboring such a deep hatred for one’s neighbor? What makes a home IMPURE? Is it the mixing of dirty dishes, or the mixing of hateful thoughts with ancient and beautiful prayers? What does it take to make a truly GOOD SABBATH? A perfect table setting and fine meal or a clean heart?

What does it take to make a truly GOOD EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION?