Fr. Roger J. Landry
Diocese of Fall River Television Mass
Bishop Stang High School Chapel, N. Dartmouth, MA
22st Sunday in OT, Year B
September 3, 2000
Dt 4:1-2,6-8; Jas 1:17-18,21-22,27; Mk 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
St. James in the second reading tells us just as much as he told the recipients of his letter almost 2000 years ago, “ Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you, with its power to save you.” And he gives us the means to determine whether we have indeed welcomed it: “Act on this word. If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves.” Jesus once said about his Mother and about every one of his disciples, “Blessed is the one who hears the word of God and keeps it.” So our challenge this week is to see how well we’re listening to the Word of God and how well we’re putting it into practice.
The first thing in welcoming the word of God is to recognize what a great gift the Word of God is. In the first reading, Moses gives the commandments to the Israelites and says that the Israelites are extraordinarily blessed, because of these commandments of the Lord. The commandments are a great gift! Too often we look at the commandments as a great burden, things that perhaps go against the grain, but they’re a great gift given by God to help us to learn how to love, to learn how to be truly human. Each one of them is summed up in Christ’s commandment to love God and love neighbor. On these two the whole law and the prophets is based.
But Moses also told the Israelites not to add anything to what God gives them nor to subtract from them. Yet after him, that’s exactly what some of the Jews did. They added all types of dietary laws and cultural prescriptions which became even more important than the central core of the law, which is love of God and love of neighbor. We see this in today’s Gospel. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites because they were disregarding God’s commandment of love and clinging to human traditions, the traditions of scrupulously washing hands before meals. They were also thinking they were made unclean only on the basis of what they ate, or what they touched.
Jesus says it’s completely different. It’s not what we touch or eat that makes us clean or unclean, but it’s our words, thoughts and deeds. It’s what is within our hearts. It’s what we listen to and put into effect. He names several of these types of real sins “sex outside of marriage, theft, murder, greed, envy, blasphemy, arrogance. These come from within and make someone impure. Jesus looks ultimately to what is within, rather than to what is outside.
And so today he calls us to look inside of ourselves to see if we’re truly making a place for his word and acting on it, treasuring his commandments and putting them into practice, or whether our heart is full of the evils that Jesus describes. If we find any of those evils, we can turn to Jesus now who is about to come down on this altar. He came to call sinners and saved sinners by the very same sacrifice in which we’re about to share. So we turn to him now, ask him for his help, so that our heart might be more like his, loving God and loving neighbor with all of it! Praised be Jesus Christ!