Deuteronomy 4, 1-2 and 6-8
- Now, Israel, hear. And I hear the climax of the
farewell address put on the lips of Moses. These are the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe. ‘Torah’ means ‘teaching.’ I recall my own RCIA ministry and the need to pass the lessons on to a new generation. And in the process the good news we have heard is enlivened and renewed.
- There is a covenant between God and the people that underlies the commandment that the people should
observe. It is bound up with the land
which the Lord is giving you. God’s
law and promise go hand in hand.
- I remind myself of the Gospel for today and its denunciation
of priestly customs and rituals. The law itself is not being challenged there. How can it be, when we are dealing with commandments of the Lord, the God of
Jesus and our God?
- Keeping the law can become an act of prayer, as Moses points
out. The Lord our God is close to us whenever we call upon him.
- Finally, observing the law gives an example to the world of
God’s greatness and justice. The nations will say, This great nation
is truly a wise and intelligent people. And they continue to marvel today.
- Central point: The law Moses sets before the people today
is the key to their progress before the world.
- Message for our assembly: We live and breathe innovation and
change. In our country no historic building is safe from the wrecking ball, and
laws (like records) are seemingly made to be broken. How do we respond to prohibitions
such as this: You shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it. Fundamentalists
may be quite comfortable with this warning, but what about us Catholics who also rely on adaptive tradition?
- I will challenge myself: To speak with a feeling of pride in
our loving God.
James 1, 17-18, 21-22 and 27
- All good giving and every perfect gift is from above.
These words are used to conclude the Byzantine liturgy. They should remind
me that any talent I exercise in my ministry is given to me from the Creator.
- I hear the words of James as I will for the next few weeks. These could
be the keynote for all the rest: Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you.
Be doers of the word – and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.
- We hear an echo of the first reading in the apostle’s appeal to his listeners. God’s word has created us that we may be a kind of firstfruits of God’s creatures.
- Today’s passage is made up of three brief selections. The
final verse shows another example of faith in action. Care for orphans and
widows in their affliction and keep oneself unstained by the world.
- Central point: God’s word is fulfilled in those who listen. That
is our calling.
- The message for our assembly: Let us be grateful for all we have received, and show our gratitude by a life of goodness.
- I will challenge myself: To deliver faithfully the apostle’s basic message, that our faith might be demonstrated
to the world in our actions.
Mark 7, 1-8, 14-15 and 21-23
- The Pharisees with some scribes observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean,
that is, unwashed, hands. I listen to one of the harshest recorded confrontations
between Jesus and his adversaries. Our assembly has just proclaimed a praise
of the divine law. I know that the evangelist was careful to distinguish between
the law and what we have here, the tradition of the elders.
- Why should we be concerned with these details of ancient ritual customs? Well,
I recall that ritual cleansings continue in many countries, especially in the modern Middle East. And every culture including our own pays a lot of attention to externals, with our diplomatic protocol
and rules of etiquette, so that we need as many reminders as we can get.
- The first part of the Gospel selections I am reading today centers on the things that they have
traditionally observed. I notice how the question is phrased: Why do your
disciples not follow the tradition of the elders? And I decide to emphasize
the pronoun ‘your’ in counter position to “our” elders.
- The response of Jesus follows. As I read, I don’t intend to put
on my condemning voice, least of all for those present, but I will be direct and uncompromising. After all, an important principle of the Kingdom is in play.
- Well did Isaiah prophesy about you. The Lord, and
Christians after him, recur to the prophets when they wish to interpret and improve upon the law. What he says next could be applied equally to Christians! You
disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.
- At the end comes the list of unacceptable behaviors, all of which come from within people, from their hearts. I listen carefully and notice that the first five are related to the Decalogue and
are directed at society as a whole: unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed.
The conduct that follows could very well occur (indeed, has occurred all too often) inside the church, leading to deep
seeded scandal and division in the past and of course today: malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance. Let those who shout down and ridicule all initiatives toward common ground in our
church consider what they do in the light of Christ. This is what I could have
in mind as I recite the list, interpreting each action cited by the evangelist as if it were chosen for a purpose, perhaps
because it was already taking place in the churches of Mark’s time.
- Climax: The new commandment of Jesus, who stands in the line of Moses and who surpasses him. Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters
one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. I need to read carefully because of the unusual selection of words like ‘one’ and ‘come
out from within.’
- Message for our assembly: Let us hear and understand.
- I will challenge myself: To understate the reading, which is strong enough in its denunciation to carry the day –
but to preserve the tension in my voice.