Homily (2) 22nd Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok UdoekpoReadings: Deut 4:1-2, 6-8; Ps 15:2-5; Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27 and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
“The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord” (Ps 15.1a).
These words of Psalm 15 capture in a nut-shell the essence of today’s Bible lessons- that Christ did not come to abolish the law, but to perfect it , to renew it, and to highlight the spiritual and moral dimensions of our laws. Granted we all have customs, values and traditions, they are constantly subject to updates and renewal in the light of the divine revelation. This is so, since the Word of God needs be put into daily practice by loving, caring for the poor, the marginalized, the aged, our parents, and by forgiving those who may have offended us, of all ages, time and culture- the same scriptural theme that Pope Francis has repeated over and over again since the beginning of his papacy!
In the 1st reading, Deut 4, the Lord invites Israel to listen (shama) and observe his words, his commandments. I want to suggest that one way to respond to this divine invitation is through listening to Deut 4 within the broader context of the Book of Deuteronomy- “second laws”. Emphasis in Deut as a whole, is on updating some of the laws, including the 10 commandments and ritual practices we heard earlier in the Books of Exodus and Leviticus. Deuteronomy for instance, updates, and teaches Israel, and invites all of us, indirectly, to listen, obey, worship God in a central place, to be more humanitarian, more caring, just, and inclusive of men, women, children and slaves, from the bottom of our hearts, in our faith practice (Deut 12-17), something that the Pharisees of today’s Gospel seemed to be lacking! They were distracted by their self righteousness!
In the Gospel, Christ responds and challenges their externalism of traditional ritual washing of hands before meals. For Christ these rituals should never be the beginning and the end of religious practice, but faith, kindness, charity, righteousness, and justice that come from within. Washing the inside is as important as washing the outside, and perhaps more important as stressed by most Israel’s prophets. Granted that the Pharisees, as depicted in today’s gospel debates, kept both the written and oral laws, Christ follows the footsteps of Israel’ prophets, like Isaiah and Amos, and offers a renewed direction. Worship and religious practice must come from within and not be limited to mere lip services, nor to external procession to ancient Shrines! Amos 5, like Psalms 15 and 24, is so strong about this. The Lord Rejects, empty rituals, songs, and offerings without justice and morality.
In order word, a true and deeply religious person, who has a deep sense of love for his/her neighbor and provide social justice a place in his or her heart would be sensitive even to those destructive social vices listed by Christ in today’s Gospel- unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly. A deeply religious person, Saint James, affirms also in the 2nd reading, is the one that transcends hypocrisy, but cares for orphans and widows in their afflictions!
In sum, the Bible readings of today, among other things, challenge us to reevaluate how we love, care for our neighbors, support victims of katrina, bokoharam, terrorisms and wars, from the bottom of our hearts. Our physical distance might be far from them. Our traditions, customs, values and culture, different, but we can still accompany them, those victims of social injustice, bad leadership and governanance all over the world, the poor, the needy, the orphans, the neglected, the voiceless, the sexually and racially abused, in our prayers and through acts of charity. As a friend of mine once puts it, “Washing the fruit we buy should not be more important than feeding the hungry.”