God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky." So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw everything that hehad made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
When I see the heavens,
the work of your hands,
the moon and the stars which you arranged,
what is man that you should keep him in mind,
mortal man that you care for him? (R./)
Yet you have made him little less than a god;
with glory and honour you crowned him,
gave him power over the works of your hand,
put all things under his feet. (R./)
All of them, sheep and cattle,
yes, even the savage beasts,
birds of the air, and fish
that make their way through the waters. (R./)
The Pharisees and some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus, and they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 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.) 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?" 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; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."
Then he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, 'honour your father and your mother;' and, 'Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.' 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), then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this."
Scripture proclaims the sacredness of the created world, culminating in the creation of human beings in the divine image. As the pinnacle of creation, according to the priestly author in Genesis, God crowns his work by forming humankind. Male and Female, "in the image of God he created them." While each other stage was "good", the inspired author says that after creating humankind, God "found it very good." While exalting the status of human beings as the pinnacle of creation, Genesis suggests that the interplay of the sexes in marriage and the family is a significant image of God’s inner being, and here God must continue to be present.
After this ultimate of all works on the sixth day, God proceeds to "rest from all the work he had done" and so "blessed the seventh day." This is not a withdrawal from his newly created world in order to rest, but rather God rests in the midst of all its beauty and goodness. The world is God’s true temple and church; the sound of wind and surf, thunder and birdsong are hymns of praise.
This background can throw light on today’s gospel, to understand why Jesus spoke as he did. He blames the Pharisees and [canon] lawyers for artificially setting aside God’s will [that we respect and appreciate the world, as blessed by God] "just for the sake of keeping your traditions." To wash and clean our food before eating is of course good, but only done in a spirit of respect for others. But if it only leads to arguments and a better-than-thou attitude, it violates God’s will that we form a united human family made in his own likeness. The Bible is continually undermining the barriers we want to raise between one group and another. Jesus could not tolerate separations and class-distinctions that divide and split apart. Any who promote divisiveness need to examine if the warning applies to them: "This people pays me lip service but their heart is far from me."
Jesus accuses his critics of ignoring the commandments of God, while grimly insisting on keeping human regulations. Jesus recognized that the religious traditions of his time did not always correspond to God’s will as revealed in the Scriptures, and as revealed in a much fuller way now by Jesus himself. The church needs to be always alert to ensure that its own traditions conform to God’s word to us, especially as spoken by Jesus. Every so often our church has to renew itself, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to purify its traditions so that they correspond more closely to the true spirit of the gospel. We can understand the Council of Vatican II as a significant attempt to do just that. In our own personal lives too we can get into traditional ways of doing things that are not in keeping with the core of God’s message to us in and through the Scriptures. Our own personal tradition, whether it is our religious tradition, or our tradition in the broader sense, is always in need of reform in the light of the gospel. We need to keep on hearing the word of the Lord afresh, and to invoke the Holy Spirit to help us to do so.