22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Reading II James 1:17-18, 21-22. 27
Gospel Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
“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.” (Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8)
Today in the first reading Moses is telling his people about God’s promise to lead his people into the Promised Land. Then he gives them the Ten Commandments. We should not add to them, and we should not subtract from them. But we should follow them.
Then our second reading is from the Book of St. James. We hear that all gifts are gifts from God. Our Scriptures are a gift from God, and we need to be “hearers” but we also need to be “doers.” At every Mass on the weekends we have a procession and either the deacon or the lector carries the Book of the Gospels, and as we process down the aisle — we hold this book up high because it is the Gospel of the Lord, it is the Word — and tells us how to follow and what to do. We place it with reverence on the Ambo. After the first two readings we stand and sing an Alleluia verse and then the deacon or priest says, “The Lord be with you.” And the parish members answer, “And with your spirit.” Then the deacon or priest says, “A reading from the Gospel according to Mark,” and the parish members say, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.”
Then we make the signs. We make the sign of the cross on our forehead, on our lips, and we make it on our heart. And we are saying to ourselves, “May the word we are going to hear proclaimed be in our mind, be on our lips, and may it be in our hearts.”
Later, when we receive Eucharist, we receive the real presence of Jesus, both transforming us to be disciples, and transforming us to be Christ-like to others. After the “Our Father” we give the sign of peace and shake hands and give a kiss, a hug, an embrace because we are a Christian community who needs to show love to one another. And if we don’t know the person we are sitting next to we say, “Hi. I’m Deacon Terry, peace be with you. What’s your name?” This gives us an opportunity to get to know each other a little better. At the very end of Mass the priest gives the blessing and says, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by our lives” — through action.
Will I carry the Book of the Gospels out at the end of Mass? No. Why not? It’s not because I forgot it. We don’t carry the Book of the Gospels out because we have already heard the Word of God — you already have it in your mind, you already have it in your heart, and hopefully we have it on our lips, in our hands, and our feet as we go out in the world to serve one another.
St. James also said, “A real religion, a true religion, is one that gives service to others — the one that takes care of the orphans and the widows, the one that helps individuals stay away from the evils of the world, and stay close to Jesus.” If we look at our lives, there are many distractions and it is very easy for us to make God secondary. If I asked you, “Is God the most important thing in your life?” I think we’d all put our hands up. Then if I ask, “Tell me about this past week. Did you pray when you got up in the morning? Did you pray when you went to bed? Did you make your actions throughout the week based on prayer? If you said, ‘yes,’ then you can say, ‘I made prayer a part of my life.’ ”
However, if you said, “Well, sometimes. I did this, this and this. But I did squeeze prayer in here and there when it was convenient.” Then we are failing to do what we really need to do as Christians, and we are also failing ourselves. We need to remember that when we have Christ in us, and he is so much a part of us — that he will give us peace, and give us happiness — in good times and in bad times.
Let’s look at the distractions in our own lives whether it be the media or TV, whether it be work, whether it be money, whether if be hobbies — but they are only good if God is at the center of what we do.
One of the greatest fears is that sometimes religion can become one of the obstacles in our life. Many years ago, about 25 years ago when I was a counselor at Quincy High School, a young lady came to my office and I got to know her because she was always late. And I don’t mean 10 minutes late, she was often two hours late for school, even three hours late. I finally went to her home to talk to her mother. The dad was in the picture but not very much, and this young lady had lots of problems. She didn’t feel like she fit in at home and as time went on she got into drugs and she got into prostitution. Eventually she did graduate. Then not too many years later — she died. The sad part of the story is that her mother was a very, very Catholic Christian woman. She went to Mass every morning, she said the Rosary once or twice a day, she went to Novenas, she went to every card party there was and participated in almost everything that the church offered. In her mind she was a very, very holy woman — and in a way she was.
But our Gospel is saying to us, “We’ve got to be careful. The rules that we follow, and don’t follow, and what we do and don’t do, make a difference in our lives and how we handle situations and how we treat others.” The Pharisees were critical of Jesus because his disciples were not washing their hands before meals. Now it would have been nice if the disciples had washed their hands before meals — but that’s not the point. The point is that after the Ten Commandments were given, eventually the leaders of the Jewish faith, the rabbis, decided, “We don’t think everybody knows what the Ten Commandments are. They may know that they should keep the Sabbath, but they really don’t. Therefore, we need to write down additional laws to help explain this commandment, and the other commandments.” So there are more than 600 laws that tell what you need to do to make sure you fulfill the Ten Commandments. You can’t tie knots on Sunday, and you can’t untie knots on Sunday. The laws are very, very specific. What we hear today in the Gospel is a remnant of that, and one of those laws is that you have to clean yourself and wash your hands before you eat. You need to be pure.
The problem is that everybody really thought they were holy, the Pharisees in particular, because they followed the 607 laws.
But they missed the spirit of the Ten Commandments. They would walk by someone lying in the street in need — because if they touched that person, they would be unclean. My goodness, they missed the point. If someone needed help, he needed help and if one of the Pharisees stopped and helped that person he would have to touch him, and that would make him unclean. So that is why Jesus said, “You are hypocrites. You talk with your lips about what you do, but you fail to remember the important thing and that is — you are to love God, and because of that love from God, we show that love by caring for each other.”
Today we need to ask ourselves, “Do we hear the word of God? Do we live the word of God?” If we do not hear, then it is more difficult to practice the word of God and be doers. But if we are truly Christ-like, then we are called to be disciples and called to use the talents that God has given us to make a difference. The problem with the mother of the young lady in high school was, she did what she thought she should do and prayed every day for her daughter. But it would have been nice if the mother had seen to it that the daughter was given the help that she needed.
When we do something nice for someone we do it not because that’s what the law says, we do it because we brought it from our mind to our heart, and when it comes from the heart it truly makes a difference.
So this week we need to ask ourselves: Are we only hearing the word of God — or are we doers?
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Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.
(TASCAM DR 40 file 0010)