A bone to pick

 ‘I’ve got a bone to pick with you.’ What a horrible expression that is! It’s enough to make your heart sink, when you hear someone say that to you, especially when uttered in  lieu of a greeting. No 'good morning’ or ‘I wonder if I might have a word…’ Just ‘I’ve got a bone to pick with you.’ Mark Twain wrote that a compliment ought to always precede a complaint, where one is possible, because it softens resentment and insures for the complaint a courteous and gentle reception. Dogs pick bones. Do you ever see two dogs together picking a bone clean in harmony?No, one bone and two dogs means a big scrap, with one dog left to gnaw the bone. 

The Pharisees and the Scribes have a bone to pick with Jesus. These are no ordinary Pharisees, from the province of Galilee, these ones have come up specially from Jerusalem. Had news reached Jesus about the behaviour of Jesus and his disciples, undermining the Jewish Law? Had they been sent to sort him out?

They complain about the disciples eating with unwashed hands, breaking the religious law. One of the places they would have committed the fault was at the feeding of the five thousand which comes just before this episode in st Mark's Gospel. It would have been difficult  to find the water for washing before the bread and fish were distributed in  that isolated place.

Jesus had performed a great miracle, and the Scribes and Pharisees would have known about it, but they do not come to him to express admiration for such a great feat. Neither do they come to find out how he accomplished the miracle. They come to make complaint, to find fault, they have a bone to pick with Jesus. Through the gospels we see the opponents of Jesus repeatedly trying to catch Jesus out, and because they cannot beat him, they have to destroy him.

Jesus is savage in his criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees. Elsewhere he warns about judging and condemning. 'Judge and you will be judged', he says, 'condemn and you will be condemned'. He turns the tables on the Pharisees and exposes their neglect of the spirit of the Law. They cannot bear the condemnation, to be exposed in a bad light. They lack the humility to recognize their own faults. Jesus judges them and is later judged by them in their high court. He condemns and he is in turn condemned to be crucified. The fate of Jesus proves his prophecy to be true.

There is nothing wrong with being scrupulous in our religious practice. For if we are faithful in small matters, then we will be entrusted with much, according to a parable of Jesus. Some might find our style of worship in our branch of the church overly fussy, with too much attention to detail, but we believe that our worship must be of a high standard, the best that we can offer to God. Our worship reflects our belief that nothing but the best will do for God. It matters if an altar cloth is clean, if a candle is straight, if there is a cobweb at the window. But being scrupulous with the externals must be matched by a desire to be equally scrupulous in our love for the Lord and for our neighbour.

George Herbert pointed this out when he described the correct demeanour of a an Anglican priest. In his book The Country Parson, he sought to raise standards among the clergy. 'Neither will they believe him in the pulpit whom they cannot trust in conversation. As for oaths and apparel the disorders thereof are also very manifest. The parson’s yea is yea and nay  nay; and his apparel plaine, but reverend and clean without spots or dust, or smell; the purity of his mind breaking out, and dilating itself even to his body, clothes and habitation.'

In the Book of Deuteronomy, the people are told that in keeping the Law given by God, they will be admired by the people around them. Their faithful religious practice, would draw others to the knowledge of God. So too with us a faithful and diligent religious practice that is the expression of a heartfelt and evident love of God may well attract others to want to know more of God.

There is time when it is right to make complaint, and there is a time to be silent. Being overly critical diminishes the soul.  Pope St John XXIII, a man with a very large heart, saw many faults around him. Some of them had to be put right, but many times he simply had to bear with the failings of those around him. He would say to himself, ‘Ignosco et dimitto’ (I ignore them and dismiss them).

Sometimes we have to let the other dog keep the bone.