Social Etiquette and God

Social Etiquette and God

Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

Friends may the fire of the Holy Spirit cleanse our hearts and the thoughts of our mind that we may love God more purely and serve him more worthily.  

According to the social customs website ‘the’ the noun etiquette describes “the requirements of polite behaviours according to the conventions of society” it furthers states that “it includes the proper conduct that is established by a community for various occasions, including ceremonies, court, formal events and everyday life.”

Quite intriguing but how much does that really bear relevance to everyday life? Back in the late 1980’s I reached the high point of my military career when by command of Queen Elizabeth the second I became an officer and a gentleman in the Army and without doubt one of the most daunting experiences that I ever underwent at the dizzying heights of being a second lieutenant was not on any battlefield nor was it about planning some complex military operation, it was infact my introduction to the social etiquette of the officers mess. It wasn’t that I was completely unaware of how to behave well at the dinner table because my parents brought my brother and sister and myself to know how to conduct ourselves in a polite civilised fashion however upon officially becoming a gentleman I had to undergo a crash course in how to behave at a formal regimental dinner with all its often very strict and complex rules and formalities. This is not the place for me to regale you with all or even some of the rules however sufficed to say that it was for me at the time an incredibly daunting and stressful prospect however with due care and strict observance of the rules I survived my time in the officer’s mess and emerged relatively unscathed; I did not disgrace myself and I managed to retain my status as a gentleman.

In today’s gospel reading we learn how the Jews went to great pains to ensure that their worship would conform to the instructions which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. God’s call to his people was a call to holiness: “be holy, for I am holy” In their zeal for holiness many elders developed elaborate traditions which became a burden for the people to carry out in their everyday lives. The Scribes and Pharisees were upset with Jesus because he allowed his disciples to break with their ritual traditions by eating with unclean hands. 

They sent a delegation all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee to bring their accusation in a face-to-face confrontation with Jesus.

Jesus dealt with their accusation by going to the heart of the matter – by looking at God’s intention and purpose for the commandments. Jesus gave an example of how their use of ritual tradition excused them from fulfilling the commandment to honour one’s father and mother. If someone wanted to avoid the duty of financially providing for their parents in old age or sickness they could say that their money or goods were an offering “given over to God” and thus exempt from any claim of charity or duty to help others. They broke God’s law to fulfil a law of their own making. Jesus explained that they rendered void God’s command because they allowed their hearts and minds to be clouded by their own interpretation of Scripture.

Jesus accused them specifically of two things. First of hypocrisy. Like actors, who put on a show, they appear to obey God’s word in their external practices while they inwardly harboured evil desires and intentions. Secondly, he accused them of abandoning God’s word by substituting their own arguments and convoluted interpretations for what God requires. They listened to clever arguments rather than to God’s word. Jesus refers them to the prophecy of Isaiah where the prophet accuses the people of his day for honouring God with their lips while their hearts went astray because of disobedience to God’s laws.

If we listen to God’s word with faith and reverence, it will both enlighten our mind and purify our heart – thus enabling us to better understand how he wants us to love and obey him. The Lord invites us to draw near to him and to feast at his banquet table. It is therefore more vital that we approach the Lord with clean hearts and pure minds and so we must asked to be cleansed and renewed with the purifying fire of his Holy Spirit.

  • Mammon biblical term referring to debasing influence of material wealth 

John Chrysostom 

“Christ says, ‘Care for the poor’ Mammon says, ‘Take away even those things the poor possess.’ Christ says, ‘Empty yourself of what you have’ Mammon says, ‘Take also what they possess.’ Do you see the opposition, the strife between them? See how it is that one cannot obey both, but must reject one?… Christ says, ‘None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions’ 

Friends may the fire of the Holy Spirit cleanse our hearts and the thoughts of our mind that we may love God more purely and serve him more worthily.