Over the years I’m sure that we have all received some kind of advice. Sometimes from parents, fiends, the media, or someone else. I remember some advice given long ago. “Always wash your hands before eating.” It was good medical advice because one didn’t always know what one had touched. But, there were those who let the
hand washing become some kind of fixation.
If memory serves me well, years ago there was a TV series called “Monk.” It was about a detective who had this hand-washing fixation. He washed his hands before (and sometimes after) meeting people. His secretary, standing next to him, was always ready with the box of Handy-Wipes. Now that was a fixation.
In the Gospel for the Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 7:1-23), some Scribes and Pharisees appear to have a fixation on hand washing. They ask Jesus why his disciples don’t wash their hands before eating.
Jesus takes this opportunity to distinguish among his listeners the difference between physical and spiritual cleanliness. It boils down to this quote. “Nothing that enters one, can defile that person, but the things that come out from within , are what defile.” (Mark 7: 15-16) That is to say, the physical (hand washing, cleanliness in general) and spiritual (ten commandments) must be distinguished.
The Gospel can tell us a couple of things. First, it is a good and healthy idea to wash one’s hands before eating, but not to the extent that Monk, the TV detective, did. Any kind of fixation is problematic. What one puts inside goes to the stomach.
Second, It would be wise to follow Jesus’ advice which comes at the end of today’s Gospel. “…It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, deceit, wickedness, envy, slander, pride. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23) What comes out comes from the heart.
In effect, it is good to wash your hands before eating, but cleanliness should not be an extreme. (Physical) But it is better not to give in to the vices mentioned above, because thoughts often become actions. And from our Baptism we all have the responsibility to treat others with dignity. (Spiritual)
If people really want to know what kind of people we are, they will judge us not by the cleanliness of our hands, but by the “cleanliness” of how we treat others, e.g. with justice, compassion, forgiveness, understanding. The message? “Keep it clean” when dealing with others.