30 August 2015: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dt 4:1-2, 6-8 Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5 Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27 Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


Acting on our beliefs, or simply acting?

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week the gospel returns to Mark and we will continue reading about discipleship in Mark for the rest of this liturgical year.

The first reading is from Deuteronomy, which means “second law.” Deuteronomy contains Moses’ instructions to the Hebrew people before they enter the Promised Land. Today he warns the people “not add to what God commands you, or subtract from it.” This warning connects to today’s gospel. Moses presents the Hebrew people with a stark choice: “love the Lord and keep his commandments” or “serve other gods.”

The second reading is from the letter of James. Scholars determined that James, a relative of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem ekklesia, isn’t the author; the letter describes conditions in the late first century, long after James’ martyrdom by stoning in 62 AD. In today’s reading the author tells us that God brings forth Christians by “the word of truth,” implanted at baptism. In Jewish liturgy, firstfruits are harvest offerings set aside and offered to God in thanksgiving for a good harvest; Christians are firstfruits of God’s kingdom. Christians are not “made” simply by hearing “the word,” but by acting on it–“be doers, not just hearers.” Finally, he says that religion comes down to this: take care of those who are powerless and afflicted (“widows and orphans”) and remain “unspotted by the world.”

The gospel reading follows Mark’s version of Jesus feeding the five thousand and walking on water. In today’s gospel the Pharisees and scribes ignore Jesus’ acts of power and instead complain to Jesus that his disciples don’t wash before eating. Jesus answers his critics with a scripture quote and concludes by contrasting “God’s commandment” with “human traditions”–the very thing Moses warns the Hebrews about in the first reading. Jesus calls the Pharisees and scribes ὑποκριτής (hoo-poh-kree-TAYS)–“actors.” Today Jesus might call them”poseurs”–wannabes who give lip service to God but “whose hearts are far away.” Jesus turns from the poseurs and addresses the crowd, teaching them that things that go into a person don’t defile that person–it’s the things that begin inside a person and come out as actions that defile. Jesus teaches that purity doesn’t come from clean hands, but from a clean heart.

RCIA participants sometimes worry about getting all the Mass responses and postures–standing, kneeling, and sitting–right. Believing community membership doesn’t depend on knowing the right moment to stand or kneel, but, as the author of James says, active and engaged care of the powerless and afflicted. Moses reminds us that worship is important because it expresses our “love of the Lord.” What does our religion comedown to? Are our actions “pure,” acting on the gospel message and the word planted at our baptisms? Or are we poseurs, our hearts far away from God, acting out a show for others while serving other gods?

—Terence Sherlock

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