22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
In today’s 1st reading in Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts the people of God to not only hear the statues and decrees of God but to also live by them. He issues a challenge to live as God commands and affirms that the God of their fathers is far superior to all the others. He states, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”
Moses is pointing out two unique aspects of the Law of God. The first, that God desires to be near to us. He is not uncaring, distant, or disinterested observer of human activity; rather, God is loving and near, near enough to hear the voice of his people. Secondly, God’s law is just. It’s precepts and guidelines not only prescribe how one should interact with him, but also how one should interact with others.
In today’s 2nd reading, St. James continues Moses’s exhortation to the people of God as directs, “be doers of the word and not hearers only.” He then provides a very specific caveat, stating “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” His instructions to the early church reiterate the message of Moses that the true measure of faith in God is manifested in actions, and most especially actions directed towards those who lack status and a voice.
Finally, in today’s Gospel, Jesus chastises the Pharisees by pointing out their hypocrisy. Using the words of the prophet Isaiah he confronts their make-believe faith, stating, “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. He then calls his followers to him and clearly professes the following truth, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” Jesus emphatically makes clear that faith in God is not a procedure or methodology. One cannot achieve righteousness by their own accord; rather, righteousness is given through transformation, a transformation of the very inner-self.
The 1st century Palestinian Jew, at least those who were obsessed with righteousness before God, were consumed with ritual and appearances. They had confused the decrees and statues handed down to them through Moses with oral traditions and practices. Their assumptions about what it meant to be righteous before God were impregnated with self-conceived illusions of piety. They wore their faith like they wore their clothing; as a means to cover and communicate status.
When Jesus stated that “nothing that enters one from the outside can defile”, he was revealing to his disciples the essential truth of the Gospel: that no one is without need of salvation. That no person is righteous by their own actions. Righteousness before God is not achieved through ritual and custom, rather righteousness is only achieved through the gift of God’s grace given to those who believe and are baptized in faith.
In the darkness of this present age and in the division it has created, a division present even within our own church, the message of Jesus Christ, our need for salvation, comes to us today as both a beacon of hope and as a call to repentance. As Moses exhorted the Hebrew people, and as James reminded the early church, and as Jesus instructed his disciples, faith, true faith in God, transforms the person from the inside out.
Today, as men and women of God, we must strive to live out our faith in ways that encourage and unite the mystical Body of Christ. We can no longer afford to let division and difference separate us from the reality that we, and those around us, are in desperate need of the transforming power of God’s grace poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit. It is time that we remove from our language the words of division such as “liberal” and “conservative” recognizing that now more than ever we are called to be first disciples of Jesus Christ, and second, servants of one another. Whether we prioritize the exercise of our faith in the service of the poor or on bended knee in front of the blessed sacrament, we are all called to be transformed by the grace given to us through Eucharist and the Sacraments of the Church.
This day I ask you all, myself included, to pause and reflect, allow the perpetual light of the Word of God to reveal our empty practices and customs of performance-based piety. As you come to the altar of God this day do so in the full awareness of your need for salvation. And, as you leave the altar of God this day, do so in the full awareness of those around you who need you to be a witness of that salvation.