We can no longer afford to vacate, ignore, or diminish our responsibility to be holy men and women of God

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 7: 31-37

As some of you may have already heard me say, almost every Sunday since the beginning of this liturgical year, the Gospel of St. Mark is my favorite Gospel. St. Mark’s use of direct language, the attention given to minute detail, and the intentional and deliberate revelation of Jesus as the Son of God resonate and connect with me in a unique and personal way. Today’s Gospel is the perfect example of these three characteristics, and once again, you, my brothers and sisters, get to listen to me blather on about my affection for this particular Gospel.

We heard in today’s Gospel the clear and concise description of Jesus’ journey from one location to another. We also learn that Jesus’ fame precedes him from region to region as he is immediately greeted by people who bringing him a deaf man to be healed. Mark describes the method by which Jesus healed the afflicted man and then Jesus cautioned those who witnessed this healing to share with no one what they have observed. All of this could be used as a summary and example of the writing style and intent and purpose of St. Mark’s Gospel.

However, as much as I do enjoy a good literary analysis of the Gospel, it does me little good if I ignore the truth, and the relevance, and the message. It is easy for me, and even perhaps all of you, my fellow pilgrims on this journey of salvation, to consume ourselves with the process only to lose ourselves by forgetting the purpose. The Gospel message for us today is exactly that reminder; we, as the Mystical Body of Christ, must never get so caught up in the methods of our faith and forget the purpose and reason for our faith.

Today’s Gospel of Mark describes what happens as soon as Jesus enters a new place, “And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.” I draw your attention to the fact that Mark describes them as “people” and not followers of Jesus. Those who brought the deaf man, a man with need, were not part of the inner circle. Throughout the Gospel, Mark is deliberate in identifying the “followers of Jesus”, meaning those who traveled with him, and those who were not part of the inner circle.

When Jesus entered the district of Decapolis his name and his reputation were already known. The people had heard of Jesus but had not yet seen Jesus. They possessed a hope. A hope that came from hearing, a hope that came through the witness and testimony of others, a hope that was the result of someone telling them about Jesus.

At risk of offending, I dare say that we, modern-day followers of Jesus, have, at times, been at best lackadaisical and at worst derelict, in our responsibility of telling others about the Jesus. It is not uncommon to hear, when gathered together in and amongst our circles of influence, such things as, “If only the priest would go visit so and so”, or “If Deacon would just stop by”, or “If only the church offered this program or that event then they would come to know Jesus.”

If we, as the Mystical Body of Christ, have learned nothing but one thing from the revelations of abuse and the subsequent cover-ups, let it be this; we can no longer afford to vacate, ignore, or diminish our responsibility to be holy men and women of God who proclaim by our words and our deeds that Jesus Christ is the cure to a hurting, lost, and needy world. May we no longer find excuse or reason to abandon our calling to bring others to Jesus. From the onset the mission of the Church is to be a witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Savior of Humankind. That mission has not been revoked nor has it been removed.

The final point today is found in Jesus himself. Notice that Mark is very specific and very deliberate in his description of the healing Jesus performed on the deaf man. Jesus first brought the man apart from the crowd. He then placed his fingers in his ears, spit, and touched the deaf man’s tongue. His groan was audible, and he spoke words of healing. I ask you, did Jesus perform these actions because they were necessary for him to heal? No. Jesus performed these actions because it was what was necessary for the man to believe.

Let us never forget that Jesus Christ wants to have a real and tangible relationship with each and every one of us. He wants us to know him personally, vividly, and intimately. Our faith is not a faith rooted in ritual, rite, or recitation. It is a faith rooted in the very person of Jesus Christ. Jesus knows us intimately and he desires us to know him intimately.

As we come before this altar today, I ask you to examine yourself in the light of today’s Gospel and recall the faces and the names of the individuals who the Holy Spirit has brought to your attention. Individuals who need you to be a witness of the healing power of Jesus. Individuals who need you, not priests, deacons, nor programs, but need you to show them Jesus.

In addition, I ask you to examine your own relationship with Jesus. Is he as real and as tangible as he was when you first met him? Or, has time, pressure, discouragement, and sin caused you to confuse him with your own expectations and conditions.

Finally, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I say this to you as a fellow pilgrim needing your encouragement as desperately as I desire to encourage you. We shall, together, one with another, reach the prize which awaits us all as we endeavor to be live out our mission and our calling.

Today, as men and women of God, we must strive to live out our faith in ways that encourage and unite…

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.