22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Year B.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“What Matters is in the Heart!”
Many of us consider ourselves good Christians because we practice certain rites and repeat certain devotions. Are these exterior shows of religion what determine who is a disciple of Christ?
The first reading praises the ‘Law of God’ and declares that it must be left as it is, without enlarging it or diminishing it. It may be rejected but never modified.
The second reading contains a call to practice the true religion that does not stop at fruitless practices but is committed to helping the orphan and the widow.
The Gospel tells us that the teachers in Israel have distorted the ‘Commandments of God’ with their traditions, and put external cleanliness among the strictest observances of the Law. Jesus, instead, draws our attention to the need for love and purity of heart. The meaning of his teaching is about sin beginning in our hearts and the importance of ‘our intentions’ in accessing our sinfulness.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ‘Ignorance of Christ’.”
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8.
Deuteronomy is based on the law that Moses taught, and it seems to have arisen in the form we have today, somewhat later. Originally it may have come from the Northern Kingdom, but then it was revised and put together in its present form during the reign of King Josiah, who spearheaded a religious reform in the last quarter of the 7th century B.C. (after the Northern Kingdom had been destroyed). The word Deuteronomy means ‘second law’.
The text that constitutes our first reading is a bridge between the historical overview and Moses’ extended discourses about the details of the law. It speaks of the general blessings that are involved in God’s gift of the law to his people. Moses calls on the people to be faithful in their observance of the law. Full and exact obedience to the directions of the Lord would remain the basic condition of the peoples continued possession of the land that they were about to take possession of.
In the second half of our reading, Moses offers some deeper motivation for their observance of the law. Their willingness to do what God commands would be a sign of their wisdom. It would demonstrate their intelligence and their ability to recognize the true values of their human existence. But even more significant than the content of God’s law was the nearness of God that was applied in the law. Through the law, God was entering into a unique level of intimacy with his people. Israel would be unlike any other nation in its closeness to God. This is why the law would be so important, so central in their life as a nation.
Two dangers must be avoided: to take something away from the law, to shorten it by removing the most difficult of its demands, and its opposite: to add new norms invented by people. The second attitude is particularly wrong, since it tries to pass off as the word of God what is only the product of human thinking. ‘God’s Law’ for living out the existence that he has bestowed on human beings is not a series of restrictions and prohibitions, but a gift. Through ‘God’s Law’ we learn how we can best bring to fulfilment the potential God has put into the life of each one of us.
The understanding of the law found in Deuteronomy is life-giving and humane. Its observance helped the nation survive centuries of foreign domination. Good law has qualities that identify it with wisdom and discernment. Other nations were to envy Israel’s law as well as Israel’s God. When coming across these undue and arbitrary ‘additions’, which the scribes have made to the law, Jesus tells his disciples to feel free to take off this absurd burden without feeling guilty.
The Psalm lists the qualities required of those who wished to worship in the Temple of Jerusalem. In word and deed, they were to imitate the justice and the truth of God (Ex. 34-6). Those who love and respect their neighbour will be comfortable before God.
James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27.
The letter of James is a peculiar piece of literature. As far as scholars can tell, it was not written by James who was mentioned among the Twelve. It is a very Jewish letter, more in line with the Wisdom writings of the Hebrew Scriptures than anything found in the New Testament. Yet it is written in excellent Greek, unlike most of the crude Greek found elsewhere in the Bible.
As in Wisdom tradition, the author shows a practical concern for what faith does, not what it says. He exhorts taking care of widows and orphans, the “poor little ones of God”, so often evoked by the prophets.
A community’s response to justice and ‘God’s Law’ would be measured by its relationship to God’s little ones. If people were to be “First fruits of the nations, and offer pure worship without stain,” they would have to produce the actions behind these lovely words and expressions.
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.
The “Pharisees”, which means in Hebrew “the separated ones”, tried to remain faithful to the Law of God at all costs and in every detail, not only in the written ‘Law of Moses’, but also in the oral tradition handed down to them. These regulations were so many and so complicated that most ordinary Jews could not follow them.
The Pharisees separated themselves from the ordinary people and considered themselves to be the only faithful Jews. In the Gospel of Mark, these Pharisees are seen as the main opponents of Jesus. They complain that Jesus eats with sinners and cures people on the Sabbath. They eventually succeed in getting him arrested and executed.
For Jews things were either clean or unclean. This had nothing to do with dirt or hygiene. Certain things, some animals, were unclean because they could not be sacrificed to God. God is holy, and so his people are holy, consecrated to God, set apart for God by the covenant of Sinai. Things or people become unclean when they touch something or somebody unclean and need to be purified. When Jews went to the market and mingled with non-Jews, they became unclean and had to become purified by washing either their clothes or their whole bodies.
Jesus and his disciples did not follow these rules. They had mixed with all kinds of people, and did not purify themselves before eating. They therefore risked excommunication from the community. Jesus is being accused of being soft on the law, of not insisting that his followers carry out all the Jewish ritual precepts with full enthusiasm.
Jesus replies to his objectors that they have twisted the purpose of the law. They have tried to make human ritualistic traditions into ‘God’s Law’ and will, while forgetting that what is important is not so much the exact fulfilment of traditional rubrical practices as dedication of the heart and mind to the goodness that the Lord offers us.
The Pharisees who were pious men who took God seriously had tried to spell out in exact detail what each of God’s Commandments entailed. These rules were originally meant to preserve the spirit of obedience to God’s will, but Jesus saw that the letter of the law was killing the spirit.
Jesus’ approach to the law was different. He put the spirit of the law before its external observances. For Jesus, the life of a child of God is much more than a mere observance of laws. Jesus wants people to come to a real relationship with God. He challenges us to move from conformity to conversion.
For Jesus, to be pleasing to God has nothing to do with ritual cleanliness. Jesus challenges us today to look not at ‘externals’ but at our hearts. We must be careful not to reduce the Christian faith to a list of ‘rules and regulations’. Christianity must be based on a love relationship with our Lord and with our neighbour. We still have rules, because they help preserve the spirit of obedience to God’s will. Without rules, we could get sloppy.
God’s Commandments tell us to honour parents, to be truthful, to respect one another’s persons and property. That’s not a catalogue of restrictions; it’s a guide to a better life. Jesus reminds us that we should respect the law, but not to be rigid. The Ten Commandments are meant to be guides in carrying out God’s will, not chains to restrict and make it difficult for us.
True religion is not only a question of going to Church regularly, praying and following carefully the precepts of the Church. ‘Less lip and more heart’ – good advice for prayer. Real prayer life begins for many people in recognizing God in the heart. Religion is a matter of the heart. “This people honours me with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me” (Mt. 15:8; Is. 29:13).
Jesus declared that to be unclean has nothing to do with what people take into their body, but everything to do with what comes out of their hearts. It is in the heart that each one decides how to relate to God and to others. It is our hearts that we must give to God.
Every act of ‘love and charity’ or act of ‘sin and evil’ begins in our hearts. ‘Eventually we will become the product of our own hearts!’
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B, we reflect on …
Sun. … We don’t have the wisdom or the ability to recognize the true values and purpose of our human existence. Observance of God’s Commandments will enable us to live in harmony with each other and with God.
Mon. … Often we are tempted to ‘cherry-pick’ the points we are prepared to adhere to in God’s commandments. The more difficult and seemingly restrictive ones we tend to ignore or imagine that in our special and unique circumstances they don’t really apply to us. Consider just for one moment where this advice is coming from!
Tues. … We must also be aware of the avoidance of adding to the Law, to pass off as the word of God what is the product of our own human thinking. To assist us in the understanding of the Law, the Church provides us with the proper interpretations based on the teaching of Christ, in the ‘Compendium Edition’ of the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’. Pgs. 129-152.
Wed. … The Letter of James tells us that our response to justice and God’s Law would be measured by our relationship with the poor and the marginalized. How do we respond to the cries of the “poor little ones of God”?
Thurs. … Do we sometimes fall into the trap of behaving like a ‘self-righteous and criticizing Pharisee’ to others after attending Church regularly, praying and following carefully the Precepts of the Church? The Pharisees accused Jesus of being soft on the law, by not insisting that his followers carry out the Jewish precepts strictly. Only God can see into the hearts of people; only God can make judgment. Do we tend to judge people or situations only by their appearances?
Frid. … God’s Commandments are not a list of restrictions to make our lives boring and rigid but a guide based on ‘love’ for a better life for all, filled with joy, peace, and happiness. God’s commandments are meant to preserve the spirit of obedience to his will, which will make us holy and will lead us to be with him, our salvation.
Sat. … Jesus declared that being ‘clean or unclean’ has nothing to do with what we take into our body, but everything to do with what comes out of our hearts. True religion is a matter of a “Loving Heart”. It is easy to honour God with lip service, as it takes little effort and sacrifice on our part. Are we really prepared to put God first in our lives above all others and things and by our actions, and carry out his will? Let us fill our hearts today with love for others and give it up to God and we will discover just how our own lives have become more enriched by the gift of giving love.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, today we rejoice in the ‘Law of God’, which is pure love and pure religion. All good things come from You. Help us grow with love for You. Help us grow in faith and look after the things You have given us. Fill our hearts with a desire to always carry out Your will.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.