SYNOPSIS: OT XXII [B] (Sept 2) HOMILY: Mk 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Introduction: Today’s readings explain what true religion is. It is not simply a scrupulous, external observance of rules, laws, traditions and rituals. It is a loving, obedient relationship with God expressed in obeying His Commandments, worshipping Him, recognizing His presence in other human beings and rendering them loving and humble service. Prayers, rituals, Sacraments and religious practices only help us to practice this true religion in our daily lives.
Scripture lessons: The first reading explains that religion is a Covenant relationship with a caring, providing and protecting God, fostered by keeping His Commandments given through Moses. God gave Israel the Law so that the Israelites might keep their Covenant with Yahweh and thank Him for His love and fidelity to His Chosen People. The Law was also intended to keep them a united, holy and intelligent nation, proud of their powerful, protective, single God. In the second reading, St. James defines true religion as keeping the word of God and doing His will by helping the needy, the poor and the weak in the community. He challenges Christians to become doers of the word, not merely hearers. In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes true religion as serving God and all His children with a pure and holy heart. The Gospel explains the encounter of Jesus with the Sanhedrin observers and the Pharisees who had been sent to assess his unique, controversial teachings. These experts had found Jesus’ teachings an open violation of the “Traditions of the Elders, and his implied and spoken claims “blasphemous. They also noticed that Jesus’ disciples omitted the required ritual washing before meals. It was in the fifth century BC that the scribes started adding oral traditions as interpretations and practical applications of the Mosaic Law. The Pharisees observed them and insisted that all the Jews should do so. The original noble purpose was to sanctify the daily lives of the people, making them “holy as God is holy” (“You are a priestly kingdom, a holy nation” — Ex 19: 6), and different in lifestyle from their pagan neighbors. Jesus uses the occasion as a teachable moment to give them the following lessons: 1) Don’t teach human doctrines as dogmas of Faith. 2) Sincerity of heart, internal disposition, purity and holiness are more important than mere external ritual observances. 3) Keep your heart holy as it is the source of sins, vices and evil habits. The observance of traditions and of washing rituals does not correct the internal motivations and inclinations that really defile people. 4) External piety without internal holiness is hypocrisy.
Life messages: 1) We need to learn and keep the spirit of the Church’s laws and ritual practices. For example, our Sunday obligation is intended to allow us to worship God in the parish community, to offer our lives to God, to ask His pardon for sins, to thank God for His blessings and to receive Divine life and strength from Him in Holy Communion. Our daily family prayers are meant to thank God for his blessings, to present the family’s needs before God, to ask pardon for sins, to maintain the spirit of unity and love in the family and to keep close relationship with God.
2) Let us avoid the tendency to become cafeteria Christians that is, to choose certain Commandments and Church laws to follow, and to ignore the others as we choose certain food items and ignore others in a cafeteria.
OT XXII Dt 4:1-2, 6-8; Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mk 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Anecdotes: 1) “Put your hand in Jesus’ hand”: For almost 50 years Mother Teresa worked in the slums of Calcutta, India. She worked among the most forsaken people on earth. You and I would recoil from most of the people that she touched every day – the dispossessed, the downtrodden, the diseased, the desperate. And yet, everybody who met Mother Teresa remarked on her warm smile. How, after almost 50 years of working in conditions like that did she keep a warm smile on her face? Mother explains that it is interesting. “When I was leaving home in Yugoslavia at age of 18 to become a nun, my mother told me something beautiful and very strange”. She said, ‘You go put your hand in Jesus’ hand and walk along with him.'” And that was the secret of Mother Teresa’s life ever after. (Rev. King Duncan). Many of us here have good jobs, we live in nice homes, and we have easy situations. But we don’t have the warm smile on our faces that this little nun, working in the most desperate situation imaginable, had on her face. What’s the difference? It may be that we’ve never put our hand in Jesus’ hand. It may be that we have him only on our lips as St. James remarks in the second reading and as Jesus remarks in today’s Gospel.
2) Ritual washing using drinking-water: William Barclay in The Daily Study Bible tells the story of an old Jewish rabbi in the Roman prison diagnosed with acute dehydration which would have led to his death. The prison guards insisted that the rabbi had been given his quota of drinking water. So, the prison doctor and the officer in charge instructed the guards to watch the rabbi and ascertain what he was doing with his ration of water. They were shocked to find that the rabbi was using almost all his water for traditional ritual washing before prayer and meals. Today’s Gospel tells us how the tradition-addicted Pharisees started questioning Jesus when his disciples omitted the ritual washing of hands in public before a meal. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies).
3) “I don’t smoke during Lent!” About 2 o’clock on a cold, blustery morning the rectory telephone rang. “I think grandpa is dying,” an excited voice declared. As it was just two blocks away Fr. Murray decided to walk to anoint the dying man. As he passed an alley a figure with a gun stepped out and demanded: “Give me your money.” The priest told the gunman: “My wallet is in the pocket of my coat. As the priest opened his coat the gunman noticed his Roman collar. He said: “I am sorry, I didn’t know that you were a priest. I beg your pardon Father! Keep your money.” In grateful relief Fr. Murray offered him a cigar. But the fellow shook his head saying, “No Father, thank you very much, but I don’t smoke during Lent!” In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls such blind observance of rules and tradition, hypocrisy. (Msgr. Arthur Tonne).
Introduction: Today’s readings explain what true religion is. It is not simply the scrupulous external observance of rules, laws, traditions and rituals. It is a loving, obedient relationship with God expressed in recognizing His presence in other human beings and rendering them loving and humble service. Prayers, rituals, Sacraments and religious practices only help us to practice this true religion in our daily lives.
Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading explains that religion is a Covenant relationship with a caring, providing and protecting God, fostered by keeping His Commandments given through Moses. God gave Israel the Law so that the Israelites might keep their Covenant with Yahweh and thank Him for His love and fidelity to His Chosen People. The Law was also intended to keep them a united, holy and intelligent nation proud of their powerful, protective, single God. The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 15) describes a person who practices true religion —blameless and just, thoughtful and honest in dealing with others. In the second reading, St. James defines true religion as keeping the word of God and doing His will by helping the needy, the poor and the weak in the community. He challenges Christians to become doers of the word, not merely hearers. In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes true religion as serving God and all His children with a pure and holy heart. The occasion is a debate between Jesus and the Pharisees on the subject of “Tradition.” Jesus warns the Pharisees against their tendency to equate traditional “human precepts” with God’s will. He blames the scribes and the Pharisees for giving undue importance to external observances in the name of “tradition,” while ignoring the Law’s real spirit. True religion should focus on the essentials. In particular, Jesus criticizes Pharisaic observance of ritual washing and declares that it is our inner motivations and dispositions that produce our purity or impurity.
First reading: Dt 4:1-2, 6-8, explained: In the fifth century BC, internal corruption and external pressures had brought the Israelites to the brink of extinction. Kings, priests, prophets and Temple had failed to hold them together. Deuteronomy, recorded under the Holy Spirit’s direction during the crisis of the Babylonian exile, 587-539 BC, presented the ancient legal traditions surrounding the Law which had been given Israel by the Lord God through Moses. In this book, Moses described the beauty of the Law and commanded its observance as Israel’s sign of gratitude for the Lord God’s promise of the land. He assured the people that their God-given Law and their faithful observance of the Law would serve three purposes: a) it would help Israel survive as a people; b) it would make the people proud of their God and His Covenant; c) it would make neighboring nations marvel at the graciousness and justice of the God of Israel, at His closeness to His people and at their closeness to Him. Hence, Moses challenged the Israelites with the questions: “What great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to Him? What other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?” Moses cited the praise they would receive from neighboring nations as an additional reason for keeping the Law: “This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.”
Second Reading, James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27, explained: Today we begin a series of five Sunday readings from the letter of James. In this letter, James addresses the whole Christian Church in general, rather than speaking just to a particular community or person as Paul did in his letters. After dealing with the value of trials and temptations and refuting the argument that temptations come from God (James 1:2-18), James provides the only formal definition of religion in the Bible. He defines true religion as translating the love of God into deeds of loving kindness toward the vulnerable members of the community and putting into practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. More specifically, true religion means that one is to “care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Gospel exegesis: The context: Our Jewish brothers and sisters called the Law, which guided and directed and sanctified their lives, Torah and regarded it as revelation from God. But, just as Jesus and his disciples were reforming Judaism by transforming it into Christianity, the Pharisees had begun reforming Judaism at an earlier period. They considered the “Written Law” or Torah or the Law of Moses (the first five books of the Bible), and the “Oral Law” (clarifications of, and additions to, the Mosaic Law given by scribes from the fifth century B.C.), as equally holy and binding. These oral laws, known in Jesus’ time as the “Traditions of the Elders,” were a series of oral traditions intended to act as “a fence around the Law,” so that the Mosaic Law itself, and, thus, the Covenant, would never be violated. The original, noble intention of the scribes who formulated these traditions and of the Pharisees who practiced them was to have their religion permeate all Israel, purifying the people in their daily lives, making them holy as their God is holy. In spite of these noble intentions, however, by the time of Jesus, their religion had degenerated, being reduced to only the exact performance of external rituals. Small wonder, then, that the scribes and Pharisees were scandalized by the revolutionary teaching of Jesus, by the unique Divine and Messianic claims made by him and by his violations of the “Traditions of the Elders”! Hence, the supreme governing body of Judaism, the Sanhedrin, sent from Jerusalem as observers a team of scribes (experts in the Jewish Law), to assess Jesus’ claims, miracles, violations of traditions and controversial teachings. A few of the local Pharisees accompanied the experts and started questioning Jesus when they noticed that Jesus’ disciples had omitted the ritual cleansing of hands before a party meal.
Ritual versus hygienic washing: Ritual washing was required of the priest, but there was nothing in the Mosaic Law that required the same behavior from lay people. Pious Jews began to adopt that habit on the principle of Exodus 19:6 — “you are a priestly kingdom and a holy nation,” and gradually it became the “the tradition of the elders.” The ritual cleansing of raw food items bought from the market, of vessels used for cooking and of the hands of those who were to eat the prepared food, like many similar practices, evolved later, to remind the Chosen People of their call to be “set apart as a holy and consecrated people,” with values and life-style consciously different from those of pagans. But in Jesus’ day, the Jews ignored the spirit of these traditions and practiced them simply as an essential judicial and ritual requisite. The question “Why do your disciples not wash their hands before eating?” persisted. It created tensions in the early Church, particularly in the Christian community of Mark where some of the new Christians were Jews and some were Gentiles. The Gentiles did not follow the Jewish customs, and, consequently, some of the Jewish Christians were upset.
Jesus’ reaction: In response to the Sanhedrin’s public criticism, Jesus stands in the prophetic tradition by citing Isaiah 29:13, where the prophet castigates the tendency to “teach mere human precepts as dogmas.” “This people pays Me lip-service but their heart is far from Me. Empty is the reverence they do Me, because they teach as dogmas mere human precepts.” The Pharisees placed emphasis, not on building a relationship with God and their fellow-human beings, but on checking out their own external behavior. Originally these religious traditions were intended to symbolize inner realities — outward signs of inward devotion to God’s Will. But the Pharisees were using them to boost their own egos. Hence, Jesus flatly denied that external things or circumstances could separate a person from God. Jesus was not criticizing rituals given in the Mosaic Law, but the giving of disproportionate importance to these things while neglecting what was far more important, the love of God and the care for one’s fellow-human beings. By insisting that uncleanness comes from violations of the moral law rather than of minute ritual prescriptions, Jesus denied a basic principle of Jewish religion and set aside a considerable amount of Mosaic Law. “Nothing that enters a man from outside can make him impure; that which comes out of him, and only that, constitutes impurity.” Jesus contradicted the Pharisees, not because he undervalued the Jewish Law, but because he understood that Mosaic Law was primarily about love and freedom, and that its ritual elements were all subordinate to this primary concern.
Real source of impurity: As illustrations of the evils which really make a person sinful and alienate him from God, Jesus mentions six evil acts: practices of sexual immorality, thefts, murders, adultery, acts of coveting or lust, and wickedness in general. Then he adds a checklist of six vices or sins of the heart: deceit (lying), wantonness (shamelessness, immodesty), jealousy or envy, slander (imputing evil to others), pride (arrogance), and folly (the stupidity of one lacking moral judgment). The point is clear. Righteousness is not what we do on the outside, but who we are on the inside. Righteousness is not about the hand; it is about the heart. Acts of adultery, murder and unkindness come from within, from hearts that are adulterous, murderous and unkind. For Jesus, a community that is actively worshiping God is a community that does not base its behavior solely on precepts and doctrines, but is integrally connected to God through righteous, just and loving relationships. What makes a person holy are the attitudes and actions that Paul in Gal 5:22-23 lists as “the fruit” of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Life messages: 1) We need to keep the spirit of the Church’s laws and practices. For example our Sunday obligation is intended to allow us to worship God in the parish community, to offer our lives to God, to ask His pardon for our sins, to thank God for His blessings, to present our needs before Him and to receive Divine Life and strength from Him in receiving Holy Communion. Our daily family prayers are meant to thank God for His blessings, to present the family’s needs before God, to ask pardon for all our sins, and to maintain the spirit of unity and love in the family.
2) Let us avoid the tendency to become cafeteria Christians: As the Pharisees did, we too show the tendency to add to or subtract from God’s laws given in the Bible and taught by the Church. Some of us pick and choose certain Commandments to follow, ignoring the others as we do food offerings in a cafeteria. For example, some actively do corporal and spiritual works of Charity, but avoid Sunday Mass or remain unfaithful to the obligations attached to the gift of their sexuality or the sacrament of marriage. Others are interested in fulfilling only the “minimal obligations” of the Faith. They come to Mass late and leave early. They make an effort to avoid serious sins, but don’t go to confession even when they fall into mortal sins.
3) Let us accept the challenge to become hearers and doers of God’s word as St. James instructs us: Let us ask ourselves how the Sunday or daily readings are affecting or changing our lives. That will show us whether we are being attentive listeners to, and doers of, God’s word. We become more fully Jesus’ family members, only when we consistently “hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21). When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion today, let us ask him for the grace to become the doers of his word as he was the doer of his Fathers’ will.
JOKE OF THE WEEK: 1) Amazing family tradition: Isaac Ole had heard from his grandma stories of an amazing family tradition in his family. It seems that his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been able to walk on water on their 21st birthday. On that day, they’d walk across the lake to the boat club for their first legal drink. So, when Isaac’s 21st birthday came around, he and his pal Sven took a boat out to the middle of the lake. Ole stepped out of the boat and nearly drowned! Sven just managed to pull him to safety. Furious and confused, Ole went to see his grandmother. “Grandma,” he asked,” it’s my 21st birthday, so why can’t I walk across the lake like my father, his father, and his father before him?” Granny looked into Ole’s eyes with a broad smile and said, “Because your father, grandfather and great-grandfather were born in January when the lake is frozen, and you were born in hot July!”
2) The Jewish tradition: Late in the evening, the young Jew knocked at the door and asked as an elderly man opened the door. “Sir, what time is it?” The old Jew just stared at him and did not answer. “Sir forgive me for disturbing you at this time,” said the young Jew, “but I really want to know what time it is. I have to find a place to sleep.” The old Jew said, “Son, the inn on the next street is the only one in this small city. I don’t know you, so you must be a stranger. If I answer you now, according to our Jewish tradition, I must invite you to my home. You’re handsome and I have a beautiful daughter. You will both fall in love and you’ll want to get married. And tell me, why would I want a son-in-law who can’t even afford a watch?”
3) Who is the Pharisee? Father O’Malley was going through the mail one day after his powerful sermon on the Pharisaic life of some of his parishioners on the previous Sunday. Drawing a single sheet of paper from an envelope, he found written on it just one word: “FOOL.” The next Sunday at Mass, he announced, “I have known many people who have written letters and forgot to sign their names. But this week I received a letter from someone who signed his name and forgot to write a letter.”
5) Spirit Alive: http://spiritualpilgrim.dor.org/ 6) Catholic.org: http://www.catholic.org/ 7) Holy Shroud: what scientists agree on: http://www.romereports.com/pg161070-the-holy-shroud-what-do-scientists-agree-on–en
26 Additional anecdotes: 1) Bowing tradition: Years ago, Harry Emerson Fosdick told about a Church in Denmark where the worshipers bowed regularly before a certain spot on the wall. They had been doing that for three centuries — bowing at that one spot in the sanctuary. Nobody could remember why. One day in renovating the church, they removed some of the whitewash on the walls. At the exact spot where the people bowed they found the image of the Madonna under the whitewash. People had become so accustomed to bowing before that image that even after it was covered up for three centuries, people still bowed. Tradition is a powerful thing. The Pharisees had learned to substitute tradition, custom, habit for the presence of the living God. Jaroslav Pelikan once said, “Tradition is the living Faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” Traditionalism rears its head in many ways, in many times and in many places.
2) We are being watched. In many cities, we will get a ticket for speeding by mail, because photo radar vans sit beneath freeway underpasses snapping our picture as we speed by and the gun records our speed while the camera focuses on our license plate. Video cameras are popping up everywhere, like virtual watching eyes. School districts are installing cameras in school buses to document for unbelieving parents how their children behave. YMCAs have mounted security cameras everywhere. Banks and businesses monitor the movements of suspected criminals and shop-lifters. With Webcams positioned strategically throughout the child-care center, parents can log on to the Internet to see what’s happening with their babies. Buzzing along benignly through clear American skies, the Recon Spy Plane has a hidden, remote-controlled camera that can be activated from up to 1,000 feet away. All these are meant to force citizens to behave well. But we conveniently forget the truth that God has an all-seeing “Holycam” perched inside our souls enabling Him to see what is in our hearts and minds. We may get away with appearance-based virtual morality in society, fooling civil authorities, friends, spouse or children. But Jesus gives us a strong warning in today’s Gospel: “Nothing that enters from outside can defile a person; but the things that come out from within are what defile” (Mark 7:15). Jesus is cautioning us not to be like some Pharisees who passed themselves off as pious, always performing the correct rites and keeping tradition-based observances, but whose inner lives were polluted with the stench of the graveyard.
3) Reluctant to break the Sabbath law: Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a psychologist, is appalled by the culture of moral relativism that has pervaded our society. In her book, How Could You Do That? Dr. Laura tells of a call from a young woman who was living with her fiancé. The young woman’s future mother-in-law was insisting that the woman and her son move closer to her home. What was the problem with that? The young woman claimed to be an Orthodox Jew, and she complained that if she moved closer to her future mother-in-law’s home, then she would be too far away from the synagogue. Instead of walking to Sabbath services, she would then have to drive, which would be breaking the Sabbath law. Dr. Laura couldn’t get the young woman to understand the inconsistency between observing one tenet of her faith–honoring the Sabbath–but not caring if she violated another–the prohibition against living with her fiancé out of wedlock. It’s not unusual for people to espouse one thing and to do something entirely different. [Schlessinger, Dr. Laura. How Could You Do That?! (New York: HarperPerennial, 1996), pp. 186-187.]
4) Move Christ from our lips to our hearts: In 1974, the top college basketball player in the country was a young man by the name of Bill Walton. At six foot eleven, he dominated college basketball. He took his team, UCLA, to their third consecutive NCAA championship, and in his senior year went on to the NBA. Bill had some adjustments to make in the NBA, and he didn’t make them very well. Then abruptly he left the game. He said his heart was no longer in his playing. After some time went by, Bill Walton came back. This time his heart was in his game, and he played like it. He led the Portland Trailblazers to their first NBA championship. Then he moved on to the Boston Celtics. Now he’s a television basketball announcer. It makes all the difference in the world if your heart is in what you’re doing! A lot of us are trying to live our lives with our hearts in nothing or, we should say, with nothing in our hearts. We have Christ on our lips, but He’s never made that journey further down. That’s why we are bored. How do we move Christ from our lips to our hearts? That is the question which today’s Gospel asks us.
5) The world needs people who are on fire for Christ: William Lloyd Garrison was the greatest Abolitionist this country has ever known. He was a publisher of a newspaper called The Liberator, an antislavery publication. Garrison was an angry man, angry with indignation caused by the unbelievably inhumane treatment many of the slaves experienced. He hated slavery with everything that was in him. One day one of his best friends, Samuel May, tried to calm him down. He said to Garrison, “Oh, my friend, try to moderate your indignation and keep more cool. Why, you are all on fire.” Garrison replied, “Brother May, I have need to be all on fire, for I have mountains of ice around me to melt.” Well, the only way any of us can melt mountains of ice is to be on fire. The only way Christ can use any of us is when we are driven by a great passion, when we feel or hear his voice within our heart showing us a great cause that needs to be championed. Nothing is accomplished in this world by people who have no passion. They follow rituals and traditions without getting converted and renewed. That’s one reason we need God in our hearts as well as on our lips.
6) Princess Diana versus Mother Teresa: Princes Diana captured the imagination of the world. When she married in 1981 (700 million watched it in TV), and when she met with a tragic death on August 31, 1997 her funeral was watched by 2.5 billion people on TV. So, it would not be surprising if, on August 31, 2018 media made mention of the anniversary of her passing. The media may recall that someone else who died twenty-one years ago, a little nun in Calcutta known to the world as Mother Teresa. It has been said that Mother Teresa chose the wrong week to die, overshadowed by the death of the young princess. But maybe that’s the way it should be. Nothing could better reflect how warped the values of the world are. Mother Teresa wasn’t accompanied by a billionaire playboy when she passed from this life to the celestial kingdom. She wasn’t being driven in a high-speed luxury car. She lived and died serving the least and the lowest. She lived and died glorifying God and serving her neighbor. There’s nothing wrong with little girls aspiring to grow up to be princesses. How much better, though, if all of us aspired to be more like Mother Teresa! There’s nothing wrong with pomp and circumstance. There’s even nothing wrong with ceremonies linked to the washing of hands, even though doctors say a little dirt is good for you, unless the ceremony of washing hands causes you to look down on those who don’t observe such ceremonies, or unless you have clean hands but an impure heart.
7) The Fall: In Albert Camus’ novel The Fall, the central figure is a nameless lawyer who tells his story to a stranger he meets in a Dutch bar. The anonymous lawyer relates how he had always prided himself on being a selfless servant of humanity, a man of noble virtue and generosity. But then one dark rainy midnight, something happened to shatter his self-righteous image. As he was walking home over a bridge, he passed by a slim young woman leaning over the rail and staring into the river. Stirred by the sight of her, he hesitated a moment, and then walked on. After crossing the bridge, he heard a body striking the water, a cry repeated several times, and then the midnight silence again. He wanted to do something to save her but stood there motionless for a while and then went home. The nameless lawyer in Camus’ story reminds us in some ways of the Pharisees in today’s Gospel. The Pharisees were experts in the law and prided themselves on their scrupulous observance of it. And yet Jesus castigated them for their hypocrisy by quoting the prophet Isaiah: “This people pay me lip service but their heart is far from me” (Albert Cylwicki, His Word Resounds).
8) “Oh yes, I believe in God, but I’m not nuts about Him” A young coed being interviewed on television about her religious beliefs said, “Oh yes, I believe in God, but I’m not nuts about Him!” According to the Gallup Poll that is a good description of how most Americans feel about God. Ninety-four percent of us believe in God. When it comes to translating that belief into action, however, most of us are clearly not nuts about Him. We have something in common with the Pharisees. Jesus once summed up the Pharisees’ chief problem like this: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” There is a group kin to the traditionalists that we might call Christian Secularists. This group is made up of that host of nominally committed people who fill the rolls of most churches. They bring their children to Sunday School. They use the Church to marry and bury. They visit us at Christmas and at Easter. They are not atheists or agnostics. They, like that young coed, believe in God, but they’re not nuts about him. Today’s Gospel is Christ’s view about such followers.
9) The great Potato Famine in Ireland: Between 1845 and 1849, the Great Potato Famine cruelly tortured Ireland and was responsible for the slow starvation and deaths of tens of thousands of Irish men, women and children. The blight that struck the beloved potato, the staple crop of the tenant farmers, was a blight called phytophthora infestans. As the disease decimated the potato crop, it assured bare tables and empty stomachs for millions of working families who depended on the potato for the filling, nourishing part of their daily diet. What was particularly cruel about this potato blight was that it left the tubers looking unscathed on the outside. The vegetables appeared large, firm, and hearty. But when cut open the potato revealed the blight had consumed it from the inside. The potato would be rotten, hollowed, soft and stinking from the center out to within a half-inch of its outer skin. What had looked promising as a meal couldn’t even produce a mouthful of unrotted pulpy flesh. The potatoes rotted from the inside out. This is exactly what the Bible means when it talks about original sin. We all have this blight in our being that rots us from the inside out. So even if we look great on the outside, and even if we tithe our lottery earnings and put lots of people to work, our hidden hungers and deep desires within are our true selves. Paul the Apostle said, “The good that I would, I do not, and the evil that I would not, I do” (Rom 7:15). We all stand as lepers, ritually unclean, standing in the need of grace and prayer.
10) “Love Lifted Me” Clarence Jordan the founder of Koinonia Farm, saw hypocrisy at work at an early age. His father was a prosperous banker and merchant in a small Georgia town. They lived within one hundred yards of the Talbot County jail. One hot summer night during a revival meeting, Jordan noted how carried away the warden of the jail’s chain gang became while singing, “Love Lifted Me.” He was inspired at how deeply the prevailing spiritual atmosphere had impacted this man. Later that same night, however, Jordan was awakened by agonizing groans coming from the direction of the chain gang camp. He knew what was happening; he had heard these sounds before. Someone had been placed into the “stretcher” and was being tortured. He also knew only one person could be responsible for inflicting such torture–the same man who had been singing “Love Lifted Me” with great emotion and conviction only hours before. The realization tore at Jordan’s heart. He identified with the man who was in agony and, as a result, became angry with the Church as he understood it. Jordan didn’t reject his Faith or launch a protest, however. He stuffed his anger deep inside until such time as he could make a difference, which he certainly did in writing the Cotton Patch versions of the New Testament and in founding Koinonia Farm. [Dr. William Mitchell and Michael A. Mitchell, Building Strong Families: How Your Family can Withstand the Challenges of Today’s Culture (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), p. 193.]
11) A little dirt is good for you: One leading researcher, Dr. Joel V. Weinstock . . . said in an interview that the immune system at birth “is like an unprogrammed computer. It needs instruction . . . Children raised in an ultraclean environment,” he added, “are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits . . . Children should be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat,” he said. He pointed out that children who grow up on farms are much less likely to develop allergies and autoimmune diseases. Also, helpful, he said, is to “let kids have two dogs and a cat, which will expose them to intestinal worms that can promote a healthy immune system.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/health/27brod.html?ref=science). Some of us probably think the good doctor went a little too far, particularly with regard to worms. However, the case seems fairly well made: a little dirt is good for you. The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem saw some of Jesus’ disciples eating food with ritually unwashed hands.
12) “I was in awe, every time I walked onto the field.” In 2005, Ryne Sandberg was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. Listen to how he describes his devotion to the institution of professional baseball: “I was in awe,” says Sandberg, “every time I walked onto the field. That’s respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponents or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever, your uniform. You make a great play, act like you’ve done it before; get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases.” Sandberg motioned to those inducted before him, “These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third. It’s disrespectful to them, to you and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up. Respect. A lot of people say this honor validates my career,” said Ryne Sandberg, “but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect . . . If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game . . . did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/opinion/27brooks.html?ref=opinion.) Many people would call Sandberg old-fashioned. And perhaps he is. But respect for tradition is important for holding things together whether it is a game like baseball, a culture, or a community of faith, a Church.
13) Don’t substitute rituals for authentic religion: In Tony Campolo’s book Who Switched the Price Tags? Campolo says that, as an evangelical Baptist teacher and preacher, one of the most serious errors he made was to underestimate the value of ritual and tradition. From his studies of the famous French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, Campolo discovered how essential and vital “ritual is for the health and maintenance of any social institution.” Studies have shown, for example, “that in the absence of consistent ritual, families tend to fall apart morally and psychologically.” (Rev. Eric S. Ritz). Jesus was not opposed to rituals, ceremonies, traditions. However, he didn’t want us to substitute rituals for authentic religion or ceremonies for compassion toward others.
14) Changing rules of the game: Jesus had a knack for constantly changing the rules of the game of life in order to incorporate a larger sphere of people in his Kingdom net. One sport where the rules have occasionally been changed is volleyball. Volleyball is a well-established game with rules which are basically understood by everyone who plays. But many times, we would have children playing the game who were either handicapped or mentally retarded. In order to integrate these special children into the game of volleyball, it was necessary to change the standing rules or laws of the game. We would say that it was fair for the special children to catch and throw the ball instead of having to volley the ball. This enabled all of the children to be part of the game. In our text Jesus was concerned that all of his children be a part of his Kingdom life. And he would go so far as to change the rules and regulations and laws in order to integrate as many of his children as possible. The Pharisees and teachers used the law to exclude people from the kingdom. This angered Jesus to the point of remembering what Isaiah had written: “These people honor me with their words, but their heart is really far away from me.”
15) Where are your sheep? In the late 1960s a soldier returned from Vietnam with a war bride. They made their home in rural Virginia. And they went to church. He was suffering post-battle stress syndrome and drinking heavily. She was Asian, lonely, and struggling to understand American society. The town shunned her. She was “different.” It was whispered she’d gotten pregnant to trap a husband and escape Saigon. People would not let their children play with hers. No one rang her phone. She grew depressed and finally killed her child and herself. At her funeral the Lord asked the pastor, “Where are your sheep?” He gave no reply. The Lord asked a second time, “Where are your sheep?” And the pastor said, “I don’t have any sheep. I have a pack of wolves!” What of us? What of us? Will we be Jesus’ lambs or self-made wolves? The one is the product of grace, the other of demons and self.
16) You are a Pharisee: You might be a Pharisee if you’ve ever shouted, “Amen!” more than 51 times during a single sermon on somebody else’s sin. You might be a Pharisee if you think the only music God listens to is at least 100 years old … if you’re sure nobody has ever had to forgive you … if your black leather Bible is so big it takes two hands to hold it up. You might be a Pharisee if you think the world would be a better place if everyone were just like you … if you think Jesus might have overstepped his bounds when he turned water into wine … if you think big hair is a sign of holiness … if you go to Church to prove you’re good! That is why Jesus issues three bewares to his disciples: “Beware the leaven of the Herodians” (Mark 8:15), “Beware the leaven of the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6) and “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees,” (Matthew 16:6). You are a Pharisee if have faith in your ideas and traditions about God instead of a relationship with the Living God, if you inclined to see what’s wrong with everything, if have a martyr complex, if you crave recognition, if you believe you are closer to God than others, if you have a “That’s him!” attitude, if you constantly wallowing in guilt with the feelings that you can never measure up, if you are repulsed by emotional extravagance, if you glory in the past, if you are addicted to self-help pop psychology, if you bring division instead of lasting works, if you don’t take correction, if you believe you have been appointed by God to fix everything, if your prayer life is mechanical, if you believe you are on the cutting edge, if you are bossy, if you are intolerant, merciless and take pride in downward comparisons, if you are suspicious of new movements, if you are offended when you are addressed without the use of a proper title, and if you glory in anything but Jesus and the cross.
17) White shoes in Summer: There was an amusing incident several years ago when the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, visited Houston, Texas. When the Duchess made her first public appearance in Houston she wore a summer dress and matching white shoes. Now a summer dress can be appropriate attire in November in Texas, but every good Southern belle knows you don’t wear white shoes after Labor Day. It simply isn’t done. Fergie’s fashion faux pas caused an uproar. It was the hot topic on all the news shows and radio shows in Houston. Finally, the Duchess’ press secretary actually had to issue a press release explaining that this custom was unheard of in England. [Schwartz, Marilyn. A Southern Belle Primer (New York: Doubleday, 1991), p. 21.] Some traditions are just plain silly, like expressing dismay at someone wearing white shoes in November. Others can be sinful, like washing your hands to demonstrate to others your piety, when really your heart is far from God.
18) Sleeping Beauty’s Castle: The centerpiece of Disney World, its most familiar icon, is the beautiful Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Its tall towers, fluttering banners, imposing size, and fairy-tale perfection draw every child (and isn’t that all of us?) towards it. But at Disney World, with all its technological wizardry and attention to detail, that centerpiece castle is a disappointment to first-time visitors. At least it was for me. Far from being filled with magical nooks and crannies, secret staircases, vast ballrooms and airy aeries to gaze out at the rest of the “magic kingdom” Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is empty. The castle is a hollow shell. The castle’s function is simply to serve as a portal into the Magic Kingdom, which loses some of its magic as soon as it becomes apparent that the castle is nothing more than a glorified archway. The outward appearance is all deception. Sleeping Beauty’s Castle has no heart of its own. Jesus wants to transform you this morning from the inside out, not from the outside in. Whatever the hollowed-out areas of your life, Jesus wants to fill them in with his presence and power. Jesus wants to give you a new heart a heart of Faith, a heart of Hope, a heart of Love.
19) No drowning celebration in New Orleans: In 1985 there was a celebration in New Orleans. New Orleans is a town known for celebrating, but this was a special kind of celebration. Sponsored by the city, it was a celebration at the municipal pool in New Orleans. The city’s life guards and support personnel were commemorating the first summer in memory with no drownings in the pools of that city. Two hundred people showed up for that party; one hundred of them were certified life guards. They had a great time, but as the party broke up, and the four life guards on duty for the occasion cleared the water, they found a fully dressed body in the deep end of the pool. Jerome Moody, age 31, had drowned right in the midst of the celebration. They tried in vain to revive him. [Jon Tal Murphree, Made To Be Mastered, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984).] When I read that, I wondered to myself if it might be possible, right here in the body of Christ, right here with all the certified life guards – Sunday School teachers, officers of the church, choir members, pastors and all — could it be possible that there is someone who is drowning? Someone who is hurting so inside that there has come a barrier between him/her and God? He/she is one of the walking wounded.
20) Freedom of choice is the right to hate: The December 1998 issue of Life magazine carried a full-page picture of a group of about a dozen protestors. These people with twisted and angry faces were not protesting at the White House or in front of a military base. They were protesting at a funeral. One of them holds a sign which reads in big letters: “FREEDOM OF CHOICE IS THE RIGHT TO HATE.” They were protesting at the October 16, 1998 funeral of Matthew Shephard, the 21-year-old gay student beaten to death and hanged cross-like on a fence in Laramie, Wyoming. After such a terrible crime, could they not at least allow Matthew’s family and friends to mourn in peace? I wonder if the people protesting at Matthew Shephard’s funeral consider themselves Christians. If so, I wonder how they justify their hatred–regardless of how they might have felt about Shephard’s lifestyle. Even on the cross, Jesus forgave his enemies. How could they possibly justify hatred in his name? But that’s what happens when your lips are one place and your heart is somewhere else. You use religion to mask a heart filled with evil. You use religion as a weapon against those whom you despise.
21) Do we stand for God? Centuries ago in one of the Egyptian monasteries, a man came and asked to be admitted. The abbot told him that the chief rule was obedience, and the man promised to be patient on all occasions, even under excessive provocation. It chanced that the abbot was holding a dried-up willow stick in his hands; he forthwith fixed the dead stick into the earth and told the newcomer to water it until, against all rules of nature, it should once again become green. Obediently the new monk walked two miles every day to the river Nile to bring a vessel of water on his shoulders and water the dry stick. A year passed by and he was still faithful to his task, though very weary. Another year and still he toiled on. Well into the third year he was still trudging to the river and back, still watering the stick, when suddenly it burst into life. -The green bush alive today is a living witness to the mighty virtues of obedience and faith. (F. H. Drinkwater in Quotes and Anecdotes; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
22) The Wrongs of Rites: A disciple once boasted about the effectiveness of his prayers and pilgrimages. His Guru advised him to take a bitter gourd along with him on his pilgrimage to place at every altar, to dip into every holy river and to be blessed at every shrine. When the disciple returned, the Guru reverently conducted a liturgy with the bitter gourd, cut it into pieces, and distributed it as sacramental food. Tasting it he declared, “Isn’t it surprising that all the prayers, pujas and pilgrimages, have not reduced the bitterness of this gourd?” Many people spend much time discussing rectitude of rituals and reinforcement of rites. Isn’t it time to stop fighting about rites and rituals and begin fighting for the rights of those orphans and widows mentioned in the Scripture? (Francis Gonsalves in Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds: quoted by Fr. Botelho).
23) Their heart is not in it…A man died recently and went to Heaven. He was very happy up there, as he wandered about, exploring the place. One Sunday morning he bumped into Jesus (it could happen up there, just as sure as down here!). Jesus called him over to show him something. He opened a sort of trap door in the floor of heaven, so that the man could look through, and see even as far as the earth below. Eventually, Jesus got him to focus his attention on a Church, his own local Church at home, where there was a full congregation at Mass. The man watched for a while, and then something began to puzzle him. He could see the priest moving his lips and turning over the pages. He could see the choir holding their hymnals, and the organist thumping the keyboards. But he couldn’t hear a sound. It was total silence. Thinking that the amplification system in heaven had broken down, he turned to Jesus for an explanation. Jesus looked at him in surprise. “Didn’t anybody ever tell you? We have a rule here that if they don’t do those things down there with their hearts, we don’t hear them up here at all!” (Jack McArdle in And That’s the Gospel Truth! Quoted by Fr. Botelho).
24) Pursuit of enemy not hindered by prayer: Barclay’s second story is about a Muslim pursuing an enemy to kill him. In the midst of the pursuit, the Azan, or public call to prayer, sounded. Instantly the Muslim got off his horse, unrolled his prayer mat, knelt down and prayed the required prayers as fast as he could. Then he leaped back on his horse to pursue his enemy in order to kill him. Jesus opposes this type of legalism in the Jewish religion in today’s Gospel.
25) Be doers of the word: St Fidelis, a martyr from southern Germany who died in 1622, is a good example. • Fidelis began his professional life as a brilliant and effective lawyer. • From the way he practiced law, he accrued a reputation for honesty, integrity, and effectiveness. • But his colleagues’ habitual dishonesty and self-seeking disgusted him so much that he left his career and became a Capuchin friar. • He put his lawyering skills to work in a heavy load of preaching, hearing confessions, and organizing care for the sick, many of whom he cured with miracles. • Everywhere he went whole towns were renewed in an energetic adherence to Christ and his Church. • When he and eight companions were sent to bring the Zwinglians (a branch of early Protestantism) of western Switzerland back into the Catholic fold, his mission met with similar success. • Too much success, maybe. • Soon the local leaders had had enough and roused the peasants against him. • They attempted to shoot him while he was preaching but missed. • Then they ambushed him on the road and beat him to death when he wouldn’t renounce his Catholic Faith. • The prayers for his attackers that escaped from his dying lips converted a Zwinglian minister who witnessed the martyrdom. If we live our Faith from the inside out, not only putting on a show, we will find the happiness we seek, and help others find it too. (E-Priest)
26) Lip Service: A story is told of a Moslem who, while pursuing a man with an upraised knife to kill him, heard the muezzin’s call to prayer from the minaret. He stopped, extended his prayer rug, said his prescribed prayers, and then continued his original pursuit after the man he wished to kill. He had said his prayers now he could go about his sordid business. Unfortunately, changing what has to be changed, the same could be observed of some Christians, who while pursuing their sinful activities, may stop to attend church services before getting back to their same old sinful pursuits. (Anonymous; quoted by Fr. Botelho). L/18
“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle B (No 47) by Fr. Tony: email@example.com
Visit my new website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/for previous Cycle B homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 196 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily.
Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.