22th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle B) – September 2, 2018

This Sunday’s Theme: The Heart of the Matter.

All three readings tell us that mere observance of laws or rules about faith without an ongoing deepening of our relationship with God and an internal conversion of our heart is futile. In Reading 2, St. James tells us that we must not be just hearers of God’s Word, but also doers of God’s Word.

Jesus tells us we are hypocrites if we honor God with our lips but our hearts are far from God. It’s also wrong if we obey the Law and the traditions, not to please God, but to be seen and admired. Our motive of self-glorification, destroys every otherwise good act we perform. It’s not ritual cleanliness that the Pharisees focus upon, but the cleanliness of the heart that matters to God. Moses tells the people that the Ten Commandments are to be understood and obeyed along with knowing why they are doing this – that is, for them to have a happy life.

St. James tells the people that “faith without works is dead” but St. Paul says “salvation by faith alone”. Why the difference? It’s the different in their definitions of “faith”. James believes that “faith” is a noun = only knowledge of God’s Law, awareness of sound theology. Paul believes that “faith” is a verb = obedient belief (includes doing God’s work which includes knowledge of God). So, “faith” from John equates to “belief” from Paul and “works” from James equates to “obedience” from Paul. Thus, these ties bring the two Saints together in agreement on salvation. – and that’s the heart of the matter.

Reading 1 – Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8     Moses tells the Israelites to observe the commandments that God gave them.

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 15:2-5     Those who observe the commandments (do justice) will find favor with God.

Reading 2 – James 1:17-18,21b-22,27     James teaches that Christians should be doers of the Word.

Gospel – Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23     Jesus teaches that it is that which comes from our hearts that defiles us.

Reading 1     Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8                        (Observing God’s Law)

Context – The book of Deuteronomy (means second law, ie. the second giving of the Law) consists of three sermons or speeches delivered by Moses (when he was 120 years old), just prior to his death, to a new generation of Israelites shortly before they entered the Promised Land.  God kept the old generation in the desert for 40 years until they died out due to their refusal to follow His way as their God. Therefore, this new generation had not experienced the miracle at the Red Sea nor heard the law (Ten Commandments) given at Sinai, and they were about to enter a new land with many dangers and temptations. The book of Deuteronomy was given to remind them of God’s law and God’s power – it is a book of remembrance. Jesus quoted from this Book the most.
Today’s Reading – The Israelites are about to go into the Promised Land. In today’s reading, Moses is issuing a strong exhortation to the people to be faithful to their covenant with God by observing the law God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Moses stresses the uniqueness of God’s revelation to them and their responsibilities. He reminds the people that through their fidelity to God’s covenant with them, they will give evidence of their wisdom and intelligence to the nations. Other nations will stand in awe when they see how close Israel is to her God and how just are her laws. See below, at PAUSE, for information on “God’s covenant with them”.

Moses said to the people: “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees[i] which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live [a happy life], 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.[ii] 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[iii], 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?

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          In the above introduction to Reading 1, it references the Mosaic Covenant – “God’s covenant with them”. A covenant is an agreement between two parties and identifies the responsibilities for which each party is accountable plus consequences are defined in the event of incompliances. Further, a covenant may be described as “a legal way to make someone part of your family.” (Like a marriage covenant – i.e. vows.) It can be said that the Bible is essentially the story of God trying to establish an extended family for Himself by reaching out to humanity time and again via covenants. There were covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus (the New Covenant – i.e. now), and then, in the fullness of time (Jesus’ Second Coming), will be the fulfillment of the New Covenant.
The Mosaic Covenant was basically the Ten Commandments and the ramification of not following them was exile (which actually happened later on due to the peoples’ infidelities). It is also during this moment that God commissions Moses to construct the Ark of the Covenant, in which will later be housed the manna, Arron’s staff, and the stone tablets themselves. The Ark, of course, is a type of the Holy Blessed Virgin Mary, as the vessel (i.e. baby Jesus in her womb) in which the presence of God dwells among His people. The manna in the Ark is itself a figure of the Eucharist.  

Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 15:2-5                       (Practicing Justice)

Today’s Psalm – The psalmist is asking God who is worthy of worshiping Him. Basically, the answer is – the one who abides by the Lord’s covenant with them. The true worshippers are those who live good virtuous lives.

R. – 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
[iv] 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.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           The fact that David listed a total of 10 moral qualities in this psalm may indicate that he wanted to suggest a comparison with the Ten Commandments. Though the contents of these lists are not the same, they both identify traits that mark a person who is walking in the will of God. A believer needs to make sure they are walking in the will of God consistently to enjoy fellowship with God and stability in His life. And the Catholic Church has Sacraments that will assist our “walk”. 

Reading 2     James 1:17-18,21b-22,27                     (Act on God’s Word)

Context – The Letter of James is a sermon on how Christians ought to live. It is a pure specimen on the ethical teaching found in the Sermon On The Mount. St. James is called “the younger” or “the less” to distinguish him from James the brother of John. On account of his close kinship with Jesus he is known as the “brother of the Lord.” It is sometimes asserted that James is in conflict with Paul on the question of faith and works. James states “faith without works is dead.”  Paul states “the righteous shall live by faith”. However the difference between the two is one of emphasis and vocabulary. For Paul faith = obedient belief. For James faith = works and belief. So, “obedience” and “works” tie the two Apostles together in agreement.
Today’s Reading – We are reminded that every good gift comes from above; hence, our reason to always be grateful to God.  Here in this passage, we come across one of the most beautiful exhortations in all of Scripture: “Humbly welcome the Word that has been planted in you and has the power to save souls.” Opening our hearts to God’s Word always implies a readiness to act on what the Word asks of us; hence, James’ famous exhortation: “Be doers of the Word and not just hearers.” One of his suggestions on how we can accomplish this is to reach out to widows and orphans, two of the most uncared for groups in his time. True Gospel living always leads to some form of social action or justice.

Dearest brothers and sisters: All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights[v], with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth[vi] that we may be a kind of firstfruits[vii] of His creatures.

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you[viii] and is able to save your souls.

Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves[ix].

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows[x] in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world[xi].

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Gospel     Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23                            (Sin Comes from the Heart)

Context – St. Mark’s Gospel was the first written of the Gospels contained in the New Testament. The date of writing was prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. St. Peter was Mark’s primary source of information about the life of Jesus. Mark is primarily known by his Roman name “Mark” but is sometimes called by his Jewish name “John” in other New Testament Writings. He was a cousin to Barnabas and an associate of St. Paul. Recognizing Jesus as the divine Son of God is the goal of this gospel. And it was written to encourage Christians who were suffering persecution for their faith. It begins with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.
Today’s Reading – Between the original giving of the Law to Moses and the time of this passage, some 600+ human traditions were added to the Ten Commandments by the Jewish leaders.  In time unfortunately, these human traditions will become as important as God’s Law. The tradition in question in this Gospel reading is “ritual hand-washing” done before eating. Ritual washing is performed very carefully following strict rules. Unfortunately, this external act became identified with one’s inner holiness. When questioned why His disciples disregard this important tradition of their ancestors, Jesus answers that holiness involves a lot more than ritual washing (external acts). It entails a lived faith which responds to God’s Word and cooperates with God’s forgiving and cleansing grace. Impeccably washed hands are no substitute for a clean heart. What Jesus seeks is a heart turned toward Him. Of the Pharisees, He says: “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” In the final verses of this week’s Gospel, Jesus says that defilement does not result from dirty hands but rather from a dirty heart where evil schemes are hatched.

When the Pharisees[xii] 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[xiii], 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.”

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Catechism 2518 – The sixth beatitude proclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” “Pure in heart” refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith. There is a connection between purity of heart, of body, and of faith: The faithful must believe the articles of the Creed “so that by believing they may obey God, by obeying may live well, by living well may purify their hearts, and with pure hearts may understand what they believe.”

[i]  Reading 1 Footnotes:
“statutes and decrees” = Canons (The internal ecclesiastical law, or operational policy, governing the Catholic Church, for example.) and Rulings. As the Hebrews are about to move into the Promised Land, they will encounter people of other cultures and life styles that will pose temptations to them. So, God wants Moses to remind them of their statutes and decrees to which they are to abide. These God given statutes and degrees are basically given so that the people will be able to live a happy life. Everything God commanded them to do had a justifying reason or explanation. It was up to them to remember, both what they were to do and why they were to do it as well. The danger, of course, is to maintain the practice while forgetting the reason for the practice. This is also true for us today with our religiosity – we need to believe that God’s “Way” is for our benefit and wellbeing then understand “what we are to do and how” plus “why we are to do it”.
[ii]  “you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it” = You shall not add anything repugnant to the spirit of My law and no interpretation of this kind can be admitted.  BUT, this does not condemn additions for well authorized traditions and laws enacted by God’s directed prophets and disciples. If this were not so, the Bible would end here at this reading and there would be no books of the prophets, no Psalms, no Proverbs, nor a New Testament.
[iii]  “For what other great nations are there that have their gods so close to them as the LORD is to the Hebrews?” = This theology of “the God who is near” is connected with the ideology of the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle as the center of God’s and Jesus’, respectively, active physical presence with their people.
[iv]  Responsorial Psalm Footnotes:
“lends not his money at usury” = This prohibition against interest on loans (usury) has reference to charitable loans made for the relief of distress rather than to the purely business type of loan. Originally the Jews were an agrarian/nomadic society but they later moved to a commercial society where interest was allowed for commercial loans.
[v]  Reading 2 Footnotes:
“Father of Lights” = A reference to God as creator of the heavenly bodies such as the sun, moon, stars, planets.
[vi]  “word of truth” = In New Testament usage, this means God’s saving revelation for us, foreshadowed in the “word” given to the prophets and in the “word” that is a synonym for the law (Mosaic Covenant), but fully expressed only in Christ and the gospel.
[vii]  “first fruits” = First fruits is an agriculture term for the initial produce reaped at the beginning of the harvest season. The Old Testament offering of the first fruits to God was meant to thank the Lord for His gifts and to seek blessing for an abundant harvest. In the New Testament, Christ is not only the First to be raised in glory, but His resurrected humanity is an offering that ensures an entire harvest of believers will be raised as He was.
[viii]  “the word that has been planted in you” = This is the gospel that we hear and then learn and understand with the help of the Holy Spirit, who was implanted in us at our baptism.
[ix]  “deluding yourselves” = As mentioned in Reading 1 footnotes – Everything God commanded them to do had a justifying reason or explanation. It was up to them to remember that God’s commands were for their benefit and that they needed to understand them and be obedient to them. Otherwise they would be deluding themselves thinking they were religious with just an academic knowledge of these commands.
[x]  “care for orphans and widows” = This represents finding and reaching out to all those in need and taking practical steps for providing their welfare.
[xi]  “keep oneself unstained by the world” = The word “world” is used here in a degrading sense meaning anything in opposition to God. That is – always keep oneself in harmony with God and His covenant because nothing that exists in the world can accomplish this for us.
[xii]  Gospel Footnotes:
Pharisees = The Pharisees (the name means “the ones set apart”) followed a way of life which they considered to be almost perfect. They considered their way as superior to others and they were foremost concerned with religious rituals as compared to the peoples’ concern – for primary needs and Jesus’ concern – for human suffering.
[xiii]  Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites. = Jesus boldly called His critics hypocrites. They professed to honor God with their behavior, but they really did not honor Him in their hearts. What Isaiah said (as quoted in this passage) about the hypocrites in his day fit these critics exactly. They stressed guidelines to the exclusion of ethics and morals.
[xiv]  “cling to human tradition” = Jesus merely pointed out that perhaps that some human practices were being given more importance than God’s Commandments.