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Homily for Wednesday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time, 09 February 2022, Mk 7:14-23

I have a feeling that Jesus is reacting to the strict dietary laws of the Pharisees in today’s Gospel because they tended to be anti-poor. I am sure he did not say what he said because he just wanted to insult the Jewish religious criteria for considering some foods as ritually clean or unclean or fit or unfit for consumption. You might want to check out Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 for the list. Modern Jews use the term KOSHER, while the Muslims use the word HALAL for basically the same idea.

I think what Jesus had against these policies was that they applied mainly to rich people who had the luxury of being selective about food. That is usually not the case with people who are poor, especially those who are in a survival mode. They are the ones who, because of poverty, will tend to eat what is available and even be very creative about making something edible out of things that are not normally eaten by people in regular circumstances. I remember how my late mother used to tell me about the kind of things many Filipinos learned to eat during the Japanese occupation when food was very scarce. If necessity is the mother of invention, it is probably also the mother of many gourmet foods.

For example, in Pampanga, we eat grasshoppers and other insects like rice crickets we call “camaru”. I know of provinces where people eat bats, snakes, or even rats. In Indonesia the sego worms found on rotting palm wood is considered a delicacy. Or try eating the street food being sold on the sidewalks of Metro Manila—like chicken claws they call Adidas and chicken intestines they call PLDT. Ilocanos are known for a dish which is made of goat innards cooked into a stew made a little bitter by some goat bile, hence the name “pinapaitan.”

I am sure you would have been revolted by any of the regional delicacies that I’ve mentioned and probably even reacted and said, “Yuck, or eek!” It’s of course a cultural thing. What might seem obnoxious to some can be delicious to others. The Romans seem to have been aware of this. They have the saying that goes, “De gustibus non est disputandum.” Meaning, “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes.” Even the French eat cheeses that other Europeans cannot stomach, and they’d call it gourmet.

I don’t think Jesus was simply defending the cultural tastes of people with regard to food in today’s Gospel. I think what he found objectionable about the food regulations of the Pharisees was that they made them also as a basis for spiritual and moral purity and uprightness. Jesus found it ridiculous that they would go to the extent of categorizing violators of their food laws as unclean, unfit for worship, as spiritually and morally undefiled.

And who would these people be, if not those who were forced by poverty to eat what was available when necessity called for it? Jesus even makes a joke of it. I think he was actually making people laugh when he asked, “How can the food you call unclean defile the heart or the soul if it enters the mouth, goes straight to the stomach and is passed on to the latrine—meaning, excreted into the toilet bowl?

I suspect that it was Jesus and the early Christian tradition that introduced the term “unclean spirits” to refer to unseen evil elements. For Jesus, these are the ones that defiled the soul. And their favorite entry points are the eyes, the ears, the mind and the emotions, not the mouth. He is of course referring to the evil spirits that attack us when we are most emotionally and psychologically vulnerable—such as when are beset by feelings of anger, resentment, envy, arrogance, greed, etc.

The Jesuits have introduced a spiritual discipline they call “consciousness examen”. It has to do with the exercise of regularly sorting out one’s thoughts and feelings before the Lord, and finding the opportunity to flush out or get rid of the spiritual toxins that tend to poison us from within—especially when we allow negative feelings to take root inside us like unwanted weeds in an otherwise beautiful garden.

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

President of Radio Veritas

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