HOME Homily Archives - Year B Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Homily. Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

Green Stole and Gospel
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The clear central theme running through this Sundays’ Readings is the law of God, the source of real wisdom and the fountain of life. To know it is to possess the only truly superior knowledge available to humans. But it is necessary to go beyond mere knowledge, welcoming the divine word and acting on it. We must not allow human small-mindedness to pervert our understanding and wholehearted embrace of the law that comes to us as the most kind gift of the Father. Though one can speak of the divine law in a broader context, what is clearly at issue in the texts here is the moral law, stemming from God’s eternal plan and from the demands of the gospel.

Going back to the Pharisees and beyond, we have a depressing habit of reducing divine things to human dimensions. God is seen as a kind of superior human being –but not necessarily exempt from the occasional “human” flaw, such as self-interest. We look upon his wisdom as wiser and surer than ours – but we don’t consider wisdom a quality that guarantees to offer the best course of action every single time. We accept, at least in theory, that his law is more just and free of political expedience than human laws – but not necessarily always superior to our own wisdom, and to be followed always.

We readily sneer at the Pharisees and the way they empty God’s word of its beauty and power by effectively reducing it to the status of mere positive law (that is, law that is conventional, changeable, perfectible and which may be passed over in certain circumstances), and then nitpicking it to death. Their evasions and casuistry, devoid of any real understanding of divine law, end up rendering it odious and an object of ridicule.

But are we any better ourselves? We live in a culture that touts itself as “progressive” and enlightened, but whose understanding of the law of God is probably more childish and anthropomorphic than that of any preceding age. And we are children of our age. How many of us who call ourselves Christian, taking human legislation as the paradigm of all law, attribute the flawed, arbitrary, conventional character of human law to God’s law. Then we throw a few pinches of a very shallow understanding of God’s “love” into the mix, and proceed to conclude that divine law is either obnoxious and to be chafed under, or eminently flexible and can be airily shrugged off as soon as it becomes awkward for our lifestyle or cramps our decision-making.

The Christian needs to radically purify his notion of the law of God: of what it is, what it’s for, how it works.

The purpose of the law God gives his people through Moses is life in its fullness, that is, all the good things the human person aspires to, and ultimately inalienable possession of the promised land of eternal happiness. This is the first thing we have to accept without question: God’s law is for us and our benefit, not against us, in any sense.

Secondly, it is a law that must be observed in its integrity, and always. Why? Because when we say that God is “wise”, we don’t mean that he “probably, almost always, gets it right”. We mean always, definitely, period. God’s wisdom is not an educated guess; it is certain knowledge. He knows only honesty, for example, “works” to make the human person truly human. He sees that selfishness is never, ever a benefit for selfish individual. His law doesn’t describe just how we should act. It describes how we “work” as human beings created in his image, just as the laws of mechanics or engineering describe how a car “works” (except that these are perfectible – God’s laws aren’t). He created us in such a way that greed and envy and arrogance and everything else Jesus mentions “render a man impure” –and cannot do otherwise. And his law warns us that certain actions are irremediably tainted by these twisted human passions, and can only have this result.

In actual fact, the only realistic way of keeping the law of God is simultaneously the only way which dignifies us. Anyone who does so out grudgingly and out of mere obligation, first of all, ends up, at best, observing the letter but not the spirit of the law –and soon finds excuses and subterfuges to justify dispensing with the letter too. And moreover, that person reduces himself to the level of puppet.

On the contrary, whoever accepts and acts on God’s law because he or she is intimately convinced and unshakably certain that what he commands is absolutely, without question, the best and only fully human way of acting, not only fulfils the law and achieves its benefits – i.e. enriching his humanity and connecting with the fullness of the graced life of the Christian – but also lives with the freedom and dignity of the person who is doing what he wants to do and what he has responsibly decided to be the very best he can do.

Such a cordial and convinced embrace of God’s law provides a tremendous and necessary foundation for every Christian’s self-confidence. Very often students at school, people in the workplace or among groups of friends or acquaintances who do not share the Catholic faith or a Christian vision of life, are too readily intimidated by others lifestyles and derisive attitudes towards whoever adopts a non-negotiable attitude towards the way Christ has shown us. Ultimately, this is a lack of faith. We need to be firmly convinced that, in the midst of others who think and act differently, we are the fortunate ones, we are the ones who know the real secrets of life and the really intelligent way to act. It’s unlikely we’ll get the plaudits for it, but “what great nation” or way of life can offer anything to compare to the richness of life, love, and genuine wisdom that is given to us as Catholics?

It’s no merit of yours, it’s pure grace, but when you go back to school, kids, be absolutely sure that you know what life is all about and how it works. Those around you who don’t share your vision are, effectively, clueless. Think about how you can gradually clue them in. That’s your mission as a Christian.