• 22B

    Posted on September 11, 2018 by in Reflections on Sunday Gospels

    Inspired by letter or spirit?

         This Sunday’s readings show how law or rules can work for us or against us. The first reading is an example of how law is to work for the people of Israel.  In the Gospel Jesus confronts laws that are working against People. The challenging newness of Jesus is certainly on display in these readings.  I would encourage us to spend some time with the challenging words which I have highlighted.  The combination of “does” and “don’ts” presents us with much to reflect on. A good examination for us.

         The first reading from Deuteronomy comes just before Moses’ giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel.  It is an exhortation to hear and observe carefully all the statutes and decrees of God, neither adding to nor taking away anything from them.  Israel’s reward will be possession of the land and a reputation before other nations for wisdom and closeness to God.

         However over time the religious leaders added various traditions.  In today’s Gospel these religious leaders are questioning Jesus about his disciples violation of the law.  The religious leaders were trying to impose laws about purification upon all the people.  Jesus attacks these leaders with harsh words:  “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.'” External practices, merely human precepts, can diminish our spirituality and lead to a certain legalism.  St. Paul spoke about the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law.”  To follow the way of the letter, you have more control; everything is defined;  people easily fall into the background.  The way of the Spirit says that, to God, people matter most.  Biblical commands never take precedence over what is compassionate and caring.

         In the second reading St. James reminded the people of his day and us:  “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.”  In the scriptures “orphans and widows” are images for the defenseless and needy.  The U.S. bishops in the Pastoral letter on the economy wrote:  “As a community of believers, we know that our faith is tested by the quality of justice among us, that we can best measure our life together by how the poor and the vulnerable are treated.” (#8)  In the Vatican Council’s decree on the Modern World we read (#43)“one of the gravest errors of our times is the split between faith which many profess and the practice of their daily lives.”

        The reality is we can be hypocrites, we can be hearers only. We can delude ourselves and be the object of James’ criticism.  We can split between the faith we profess and the practice in our daily lives.  We can be content with exercises of piety and not work for justice.

         We are called to ask the Holy Spirit to give us a clear discernment about our religious practices and the signs of our times.  We must pray to have the courage to leave what does not lead us into real love and adopt new ways of genuinely responding to God’s commandment of love as the Spirit inspires us.

         Jesus insists that from within, from the heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly.”  We need the power of the Holy Spirit and the nourishment of the Eucharist to fulfill Jesus’ commandment to love.  The Spirit and the Eucharist help us to transcend ourselves to become more what we are called to be: fully human and fully loving people.  Sin distorts us but God can restore us.

    1) The teachers speak reverently of the “tradition of the elders” and attribute to it divine authority, but Jesus regards it as human tradition. One must never confuse the will of God with what is the product of human invention.  


    2) Mark here in this passage and later on 12:38-44 is trying to show how “piety” can pre-empt justice.



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