22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B – 2018

FIRST READING            Deuteronomy 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?”

SECOND READING                  James 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 first-fruits 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.

GOSPEL                Mark 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.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Is there anyone who can teach us as Jesus does?  Is there any faith tradition that as strong and true as our own?  There is no God other than ours, Father, Son and Spirit, that claims to give us the truth about what it means to be human, what it means to believe and what it means to live with complete faith in God.

The first reading today is from the Book of Deuteronomy and speaks about how our ancestors had an enormous pride in their faith but also a deep awareness that it was truly God who was leading them and showing them how to believe.  They believed deeply that God was speaking to them in history, in His chosen people, in those who were chosen to lead them and in everything.  It was this belief that sustained them and which still sustains the Jewish people.  We, Christians who follow Jesus Christ, acknowledge the Jewish people as our ancestors in the faith.  We can only understand Jesus if we understand our Jewish ancestors.  This is why we always have readings from the Old Testament.  Jesus Himself explains who He is to those who accompanied Him to Emmaus after the Resurrection by explaining the Scriptures to them.  The only Scriptures at that point would have been the Jewish Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament.

The second reading today is from the Letter of James.  We are told to be doers of the Word and not only hearers.  This is echoed so much today:  we need actions and not just words.  All of us should recognize that if we only speak about God or about Jesus or about the Spirit—and our lives have no actions showing that our beliefs have taken effect—then no one will believe our words.  This is echoed strongly today in the movement to combat sexual abuse and the cover-ups of sexual abuse by bishops and religious leaders.  We humans get tired of words that do not change our lives into action.  This is why today’s short except from the Letter of James ends this way:  “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.”  Actions must come from beliefs.

The Gospel today is from Saint Mark and tells us about the complaint of the Pharisees and some scribes that the followers of Jesus were not observing the proper Jewish laws when they did not wash their hands before eating.  Jesus shows Himself to be impatient with this understanding of faith:  “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”  What use is it to wash our hands if we don’t love other people and only use religious traditions to make life difficult for others?

Jesus is so clear in His teachings.  He tells us that He did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them.  Jesus has no problem with the person who washes His hands and still serves the poor and the needy.  The problem is with us who make sure to wash our hands but never pay attention to the poor and the needy in our midst!  If I go to Church regularly but don’t care about the poor and the needy, my Church-going is in vain.  I should both be going to Church and serving the poor and the needy.

We can never use our faith to think that we are just fine and ignore the poor and the needy.  We must seek how to serve others.  God calls us in Christ Jesus to serve all others and to sacrifice ourselves and our own desires in the serving of others.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip