11 February 2020

‘Heed the prayer that your
servant prays … Hear
the plea of your people’

An altar on loan from Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Limerick, in a side chapel in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Chapter Eucharist,

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick

10.30 a.m., 11 February 2020

I Kings 8: 22-23, 27-30; Psalm 84: 1-10; Mark 7: 1-13.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I know it is not normal to have a sermon at this mid-morning, mid-week Eucharist, and I do not intend to preach a sermon this morning.

But, just as we cannot celebrate the Eucharist without breaking the bread, neither ought we to do so without ‘breaking the word.’

So, let me just take two minutes as I reflect on this morning’s Old Testament and Gospel readings.

In the Old Testament reading, Solomon stands before the altar in the Temple, and prays to God, not as a an over-confident or even smug ruler, filled with self-importance. Instead, he asks God to listen to his prayer of dedication.

What is true prayer?

This is a concern for Jesus in his dialogue with those who have gathered around him, an interesting alliance or coalition of people including scribes and Pharisees, people who associated with the Temple and the synagogue, people from Jerusalem and from smaller towns and villages, people with both pragmatic and idealistic approaches to the issues of the day.

They challenge the behaviour of the disciples, pointing out that it is not part of accepted tradition.

But Christ reminds them that what is important is not the letter of the law, the way tradition has become not so much consolidated as solidified.

What is important in tradition is what is at heart of it, what is important is not what is on our lips, but in our hearts.

So, in these times of political uncertainty, perhaps it is worth taking Solomon as an example: no matter how powerful how our political leaders are or become, they must learn to be humble before God, and attend to God’s people with care and humility, especially the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the marginalised and the migrant.

And, in these times of political uncertainty, no matter how our politicians say are bound by tradition or limited by either their abilities to be pragmatic or adhere to their idealism, what will matter is their actions and their priorities for God’s people, especially the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the marginalised and the migrant.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I Kings 8: 22-23, 27-30 (NRSV):

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart …

27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.”

Mark 7: 1-13 (NRSVA):

1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ 6 He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’

9 Then he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, “Honour your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.” 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban” (that is, an offering to God) — 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.’

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