Homily Twenty second Sunday of the Year B 30th August, 2015
Deuteronomy 4:1-2.6-8 Observe God's law
James 1:17-18.21-22.27 Word planted in you
Mark 7:1-8.14-15.21-23 Listen and understand
This weekend’s readings take a very practical angle on the meaning of our discipleship. We are called to take special care to be just, honest, and charitable toward everyone. What a different tone the world would take if everyone took this angle.
As Christians, the proper application of our religious beliefs leads to very important practical consequences for our lives and actions. The readings this weekend send a powerful message: What is the point of calling ourselves “followers and servants of God” (in other words: “Christians”), unless our practical actions reflect the justice, charity, forgiveness and loving/practical acts of kindness that God asks us to show to one-another.
“True and untarnished religion is acting justly, helping the poor, the widow, the orphan and helping those who are most in need.”
Jesus warns his critics that if their religion goes no further than compulsively observing outward actions and stylized symbolic rituals whilst (at the same time) not living the message of practical love, kindness and fairness (which these rituals represent and symbolise attempt to foster within us), then it is really nothing more than a false (and hollow) practise of “religion”.
“The value of a person’s good works is not based on their number and excellence but on the love of God which prompts the person to do these things.” as Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591) so ably points out. “Love, justice and charity are the more key indicators of an authentic discipleship that mere outward observances of one’s rituals. Ideally, the two go together and reinforce and nurture each-other.”
I had often understood the first reading to mean, you must observe each and every law and commandment that God gives (which is certainly true), but a closer inspection of this text shows that there is more to be found here….. “You must add nothing to what I command you, …….” That is, you must not ADD to God’s laws.
It is clear from the Gospel that by the time of Jesus, people had indeed been adding to God’s law and loading people down with unnecessary burdens and difficult observances that for most people were impractical and frankly impossible to achieve. So, living in God’s favour became something exclusive, for the lucky minority… The large majority of people were too busy with the messy demands of everyday life to be able to keep all the rules and rituals that were now being lumped on them if they were to be considered righteous and good. “Holiness” and “peace” became rare commodities, which were now well beyond the reach of most people. This could never have been God’s plan.
Also, the keeping of the commandments of the Lord your God was in order to “demonstrate wisdom and understanding.” ((Deuteronomy 4:1-2. 6-8) . this starts to make things clearer: The whole point of the law was that God gave it to the people as a help to their welfare and growth and so that people could deeply reflect the values and priorities of God.
I particularly like scripture passages that expressly NAME the virtues and qualities of Christian life.. You can feel a tangible energy and desire for those virtues.. It is clear that these qualities resonate in our very soul…..
The psalm this weekend, goes on to explain in detail:
How the “just” will live in the presence of the Lord.
The just will live in the presence of the Lord BY…….
- Walking in the ways of blamelessness,
- Acting with justice
- Speaking honestly
- Avoiding wrong
- Not gossiping or slandering others
- Honouring the Lord.
- Keeping promises
- Not “ripping-off” people
- Not allowing oneself to be “bought off” from their principles.
The second Reading (James 1:17-18. 21-22. 27) confirms this practical advice: and we should always aim to “do what the word tells us, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.” It is a reminder that we can easily deceive ourselves about our motives and intentions, but we should be on guard against such self-justifications that can happen so often. The true test of “pure, unspoilt religion,” is the practical actions of “coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world. (There are many values in the world that are not consistent with the gospel).
Finally, in the gospel, Jesus warns us about people who “honour God with only lip-service, and all the while their hearts are actually far from God.” Jesus asks us to look inside ourselves and see the things that will distort our faithfulness to God: Unfaithfulness, lust, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. These are the inner movements of the heart and they must be crowded out by the positive values and virtues of God: faithfulness, purity, reverence, respect, detachment from material things, love, honesty, appreciation, affirmation, self-sacrifice, and so on. The virtues of the gospel build us up and crowd out anything that is inconsistent with the gospel.
Christianity is not primarily a set of doctrines and Laws…. Christianity is about a Person, and relationship to that person – Jesus Christ, who is the revelation of God…..
All the law and the prophets and all of the Bible… (Old and New Testament)…. Are not an end in themselves, but allow us to encounter God, and particularly encounter the Person of Jesus Christ… Christ IS the Gospel…. The Gospel is not a book it is a person, God the Son, Jesus Christ. He himself is the Message of God… The law of God is not a thing it is a person: Christ. He IS the Law. He is THE WORD of God… and he is the last word on everything…… // Christianity is therefore only secondarily about what he says… but rather, first and foremost, what Jesus says is an expression of WHO he is, and his values and his nature… His relationship with the Father and his invitation for us to be part of that inner life of God is the essence………..
Christianity is a relationship not a concept or a philosophy or merely a set of rules…. And whenever it is turned into mere concepts or merely a set of rules or philosophies, it gets disconnected unless it CONNECTS us to the person and values… of Jesus. This is not to say that there are no rules and doctrines in Christianity. They certainly are. But they all serve to point us to Christ who is the one Rule, the one Word.
Jesus was struggling against legalism in today’s gospel…. The lawmakers and law keepers seemed to be more interested in what people could not do, rather than focusing on what they should or could be doing in response to life’s real problems. It would be equivalent to a peron saying: “ I have kept all ten commandment. Wherever it said.. “thou shalt not”… I “didst not!!”… That is all very well, God might reply, but “also, you actually did not Do anything else either!!!! ” - Surely our Christian faith is also about positive action as well as refraining from negative acts…
Whilst it IS true that the ten commandments features a list of some do’s and quite a lot of don’ts, Jesus’ point in the gospel this weekend makes it clear that the sins which he has reserved most criticism for are for “things done,” not merely things “avoided”……
The law makers in Jesus time focused too much on appearances….. on outward actions, whilst ignoring the inner realities of their attitudes and hypocrisy….. Focusing more on what one should refrain from doing rather than encouraging inner growth and nurturing constructive attitudes and loving responses towards others…….There is a certain safety in refraining from doing things, and avoiding things………
It is possible to make sure we never get hurt or hurt others by avoiding any meaningful engagement with them…….
We might be able to prevent getting disappointed by others. If we do not want a complicated life, we could try to achieve this by refusing to love but this would defeat the call of the Gospel. The final criticism of the law of Jesus’ time is that it had become an end in itself…..the law did not seem to exist for humans.. but the law had become an end in itself for humans to observe.
Jesus corrected the error…. It is possible to go through life seeming righteous and appearing to observe the letter of the law, but at the cost of never risking anything and never getting one’s hands dirty and by never really doing anything bad or good.
In response to that, Jesus is shown risking everything and giving everything to honestly address genuine human need.
Fr Paul W. Kelly
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