August 30: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Readings: Dt 4:1-12,6-8; Jas 117-18,21-22,27; Mk 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23
For 5 weeks we have listened to Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life in John 6. That discourse had been introduced by the miracle of the multiplication of loaves in Mark 6:35-44. This Sunday the Gospel returns to Mark with a dispute between Jesus, the Pharisee and scribes on the true meaning of God’s law. All 3 readings focus attention on the essentials, namely the relation between personal holiness and observance of the Law, not the details. What counts most is inner personal holiness rather than the scrupulous external ob¬servance of the law. The readings remind us that it is not a matter of knowing or doing the small details of what is required, but rather it is a question of entering into an authentic relationship with the God. The three readings together give a balanced approach to the law. In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses presents the statutes and decrees of the Lord in a positive way. He teaches the people that by observing the decrees of the Lord, they will live and occupy the land the Lord is giving them. He also warns the people that they must not add nor subtract from God’s law and teaching. God’s law basically consists of three parts: doctrinal teaching, moral teaching and prayer. While the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed sum up doctrinal teaching through the Church, the Ten Commandments sum up moral teaching. This touches on how God intends we behave toward God and each other. Prayer is mainly expressed in the Our Father and the celebration of the Sacraments. God’s law is rooted in the love of God and must be an expression of that love. The best criterion of every law therefore is the greatest law: love of God and love of neighbour. The second reading from the letter of James neatly summarises this point in terms of relating personal holiness of life to the care of the needy. We must put into action what God tells us and James sums this well: “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and able to save your souls”. In other words, our inner life must translate into action, in the service of others.
In the Gospel passage, Jesus takes issue with the legalism and hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisee. Instead of focusing on the essentials, they focus on the details of the law. When asked by the Scribes and Pharisee why He and his disciples did not observe the law of washing their hands before eating, Jesus drew their attention to the essentials, namely the inner moral pollution that comes from within: immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, etc and not legal obsession. We are invited to listen to God's law and God’s invitation to salvation as offered in the Gospel by the Church. To listen to the law is more than just knowing the law. We are invited to joyfully live what the Church teaches, not with legalism but out of a deep intimate relationship with the Father, so that we may find life and salvation, in Christ. The message from the readings this Sunday is threefold: 1) God’s law is meant to lead us to life and joy not to death and sadness; through the law we find salvation in Christ. 2) The best criterion of every law is the Greatest Commandment: love of God and love of neighbour, expressed in terms of relating personal holiness to the care of the needy. 3) Genuine holiness is one that leads us to the service of others, particularly the less fortunate, which is always an overflow of our inner relationship with God.
©2009 John M. Mbinda