September 2nd, Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s text is really loaded with meaning and packs a real punch in guiding us as to how we are to live our lives.
With today’s Gospel excerpt, we leave St. John behind us and begin to walk with Mark for a while. Mark always has our Lord speaking in a very cryptic style making points very succinctly and directly. In today’s reading, we find him surrounded by Pharisees and lawyers. They are sharply criticizing him for not following the liturgical laws exactly as they should be. Jesus is quite direct. He blasts them, calling them hypocrites and reminds them that our obligation is to follow God’s commands and not human laws. He gives us a wonderful one sentence directive.
“Nothing that enters a man from outside can make him impure. That which comes out of him, and only that, constitutes impurity.”
Then he goes on to list a series of evil acts that flow from the misuse of the human will and lead to destruction and pain. This is an important idea but I would rather jump back to the second reading because it is from the epistle of St. James. It is not used that often in the course of the year in the Lectionary.
James is talking to new converts and he tells them that they have gotten the Word and it has taken root in them and the Word is salvific, but listening is not enough. James says, “Act on this Word. If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourself.” He then goes on to talk about helping out neighbor, talking about orphans, widows, others in distress and when we do things for people who are poor and suffering we make for pure worship without stain before our God.
A few paragraphs down James says, “Faith without works is dead.” Historically, this is very much at odds with the basic teaching of Martin Luther and so Luther threw the epistle of St. James out of the New Testament. Catholics ought to study it frequently because it is a real reflection of life in the early Church. He talks about many practical issues – conflict in the Church, the trouble of malicious gossip, confessing our sins to one another and anointing of the sick.
“Is any one among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the Church and they should pray over and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and the prayer of faith will save the sick person…if he has committed any sins, he shall be forgiven.”
These texts are extraordinarily important for getting an insight into how life was in the Christian community of the first century.
This brief epistle is so important that I am happy that we will continue with it for several weeks.