Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time Readings
Reading 1 Dt 4:1-2, 6-8
Moses said to the people: “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it. Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ 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?”
Responsorial Psalm Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. Whoever walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue. R. The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. Who harms not his fellow man, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; by whom the reprobate is despised, while he honors those who fear the LORD. R. The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. Who lends not his money at usury and accepts no bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things shall never be disturbed. R. The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
Reading 2 Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Dearest brothers and sisters: All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. 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.
Alleluia Jas 1:18
- Alleluia, alleluia. The Father willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. —For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. — So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “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. “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
I read this week, and you may have as well, about a faux Bugatti. Now, for those of you who do not know what a Bugatti is, it is a high-end European sports car. Well, some Lego engineers with time on their hands built an exact replica of the sports car out of Legos. Side by side, and given a little distance, you can’t tell the faux Bugatti from the real one. But the difference quickly becomes apparent when you start them up. A real Bugatti goes from 0-60 in 2.4 seconds. Its top speed is unknown because it is electronically limited to 261 mph since there are no tires manufactured that can sustain speeds faster than that without exploding. The Lego Bugatti on the other hand is powered by over 2,000 Lego electric motors and has a top speed of 18 mph. As Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, it’s what is under the hood that counts.
Have you ever noticed that Jesus got on well with “sinners” but couldn’t quite get along with religious people. That fact should and does send shockwaves of terror to someone like me who is professionally religious.
It’s easy to look religious on the outside. As a priest I wear religious clothes. I say religious things. But the truth is that we are all like tubes of toothpaste. You never really know what is on the inside until you squeeze it.
How have you been squeezed lately?
Sometimes we get squeezed just driving to work. We get squeezed when relationships go bad. We get squeezed when the mortgage comes due and we are uncertain how to pay it. We get squeezed when our life or livelihood is threatened. We know who we truly are when we observe ourselves when we are squeezed.
I remember a story I had read as a child a variation on Cicero’s story of Damocles, about a poor man who wanted to be king for a day. The king granted his wish provided he did everything the king did for an entire day and night. He was surprised at how busy the king was during the day, the problems and decisions were almost too much to bear, but the food was good and overall he thought being a king wasn’t so bad. Until it came to bedtime. When he climbed into the king’s bed he was terrified to discover that a sword hung over his heart supported only by a thin thread. The king explained that the king is surrounded by people who speak well of him, some sincere, others not, so it is very important that he never lose sight of his mortality, that his life, like all others, hangs by a thread, and he must one day give an account.
A priest can hear a lot of good things said about him. But I cannot take those to heart. Because I know that there is no sinner on the planet greater than myself. It is only by God’s grace that I am not another Hitler or Stalin or Mao. There is no one more in need of God’s grace than me. And my soul could be required of me at any moment. On that day it will be evident to all and to myself who I really am.
So how do we live our lives so that only good comes out when we are squeezed, and we are always ready to meet God in judgement?
Do you remember the first reading? The exhortation that flows from this is to live from the inside out. One has to receive the word interiorly, be regenerated by it. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves” (Jas 1.22). Only when we are honest with our selves will we allow the word of God to change us. Only then does the doing come: “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” (Jas 1.27). Here we see moral action in its proper place – as the fruit of interior regeneration and devotion. As Jeremiah prophesied, God would write his law on our hearts.
It is too easy for us as modern Catholics to become like the Pharisees, keeping score by externals and not by the heart of our neighbor. We are sometimes quick to condemn others or ourselves because they or we do not meet our external standard. Someone missed mass. That’s a mortal sin. Well, maybe they were caring for their sick neighbor who needed a ride to the hospital. Someone doesn’t give a tenth of their income to the Church, that’s stealing from God. Well, maybe their aging parent needs special care they are struggling to pay for.
There are those who say we should be stricter about the rules. We should be more like the pharisees. Have strict standards and require everyone to meet our standards. I understand there is a petition going around demanding answers from the holy father. Pope Francis is appointed by the Holy Spirit to be the Vicar of Christ on earth. Do you really want to become his interrogator? Isn’t that what the Pharisees were to Jesus? “Why do you eat with unclean hands?”
There are those who say that the interior law is too easy. I propose it is actually much harder.
It’s difficult to preach this without being labeled a libertine. But I will take that chance because that is the gospel. There were 613 laws in the Old Testament of which washing hands was only one. But Jesus summarized the Law into 2 commandments. Love God. Love your neighbor. In every situation ask yourself this question, “How does love apply?” Has someone wronged you? How does love apply? Are you confused by all the accusations being slung at the Catholic Church and the holy father? How does love apply? Are you thinking you should just go ahead and quit church altogether because there is corruption and infighting and lies and sin? How does love apply?
Beloved, this is not the time to be quitting. This is the time to be healing. Sometimes healing hurts. How does love apply? Sometimes love calls for defending your loved one to those who badmouth him or her. How does love apply?
We are all going to have many chances in the coming days to participate in gossip or ridicule or judgement against the Church established by Jesus. I know it is wounded. I know it needs healing. So please, be a healer.