- Come back to me with all your heart (Joel 2:12)
The evangelist Marks first clarifies the word “unclean” to mean really “unwashed.” Then he explains a bit more that the Jews, particularly the Pharisees, keeping the traditions of the elders, do not eat without carefully washing their hands.
Explanations are necessary so that hearers or readers who are far removed, culturally or time-wise, from the events and the persons being described may understand well or better what is being communicated. Another example of an explanation is the one given in Jn. 4:9, namely, “For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.” Without this explanation, the Samaritan woman’s reaction of surprise to Jesus would not be readily understandable.
Explanations, and likewise interpretations, which are no sooner taken to be traditions, have as their objective to clarify by bringing us back to the original setting or context, even if, not infrequently, they confuse more than clarify. They sometimes take control so much and are rigidly imposed that they conceal what they are really supposed to reveal, detracting from the primacy of what is revealed—in the same way that more importance is sometimes given to money than to basic physical needs, to satisfy which we want to have money in the first place.
But explanations are worthwhile if indeed they lead us to intimacy with God, who is close to us whenever we call upon him, and make us reconnect with God, to opt for him again and to try to read once more his thoughts and will, that is to say, to practice the religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father. Such religion, I believe, is the same true religion that is found among the poor folks who believe with simplicity, without picking and choosing, submit to orders, are patient in the miseries that they have to endure as God wills, some because of war, others because they have to work all day under the burning heat of the sun. This true religion impels one not only to be hearers of the word but also doers, in such a way that one does justice and gets to dwell where the Lord dwells. And this living faith knows to dispense with the old code of purity laws if the new dispensation requires a new code, which is not so much external and material as internal and spiritual, so that the Gentiles may also be provided with salvation.
Explanations are of great use, yes, if they prompt me to return to “the sources of all Christian life,” to the primordial events and, first and foremost, to the person of Jesus, the fulfillment par excellence of the Law and the Prophets, “which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (cf. Perfectae Caritatis 2; Deus Caritas Est 1; John W. O’Malley’s “Vatican II: Did Anything Happen?” in the March 2006 issue of Theological Studies). And when all is said and done really, explanations are valuable only to the extent that they point to the person of Jesus Christ, who should be for any Christian, for any Vincentian, of course, just as he was for St. Vincent, the only one driving force, that is to say: “the rule of the Mission,” “the center of one’s life and activity,” or, according to St. Vincent’s reminder to Father Portail, one’s life, one’s death, one’s fullness, and the hiding place and refuge where one goes back to.