2 September, 2012 –– 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–8 / James 1:17–18 / Mark 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23
I begin this homily with something I said two weeks ago: We live in a spiritually rebellious world that seeks to blind us so that we do not recognize who God really is. We live in a spiritually rebellious world that seeks to seduce us so that we do not perceive the connections between belief and behavior. We live in a spiritually rebellious world that seeks to deceive us so that we deny the connection between breaking God’s Commandments and experiencing both personal and societal dysfunction and pain.
It is so important that we respond to God on the basis of what he has revealed to us. Left to ourselves, we get things wrong. When we allow popular opinion to mold our understanding of God, we create a god in our own image that says our favorite sins are “natural” and then blesses them.
There was a prayer retreat in our parish a week ago. It was noted that one of the justifications used by people who reject organized religion is “I can pray without going to church.” That is certainly true, but.... one cannot pray well without the Church. If our understanding of God is not formed by the Truth of God’s Revelation –– which Christians believe has been entrusted to the Church through the Scriptures –– then prayer quickly degenerates to an expression of our own opinions directed to a “god” of our own imagination.
The fullest revelation of God is Jesus Christ. Speaking of Jesus, St Paul told the Colossians: He is the image of the invisible God (1:15), for in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily (2:9). Our calling is to be faithful to Jesus Christ –– the Jesus made known by the Scriptures and the Church. In the Old Testament reading God speaks through Moses to say we are not to subtract from or add to his revelation.
Think about it: There is a broad spectrum of people who use the name of “Jesus” to justify their opinions. Many people have created a “Jesus” of their own liking, and that’s the “Jesus” they believe. We should not be surprised that it is human nature to embrace a selective Jesus, a Jesus based on what is comfortable, convenient and pandering to our own desires. Some people have a Jesus who doesn’t mind sitting on the shelf until you’re ready to pull him out at Christmas, Easter, weddings, funerals, or national tragedies. Other people believe Jesus is someone who does not believe in sin, holiness, or redemption, and is accepting of all religions because he himself is just one of many paths to enlightenment. There is a popular teaching that Jesus came to help people reach their full potential in this life and living the “best life now” so that you can feel good about yourself. And perhaps more than anything else, there is broad assumption that anyone who follows Jesus will tolerate almost anyone and anything, and never make a moral judgment.
It seems even the least religious people know that Jesus said Judge not, that you be not judged (Matt 7:1). This is used against faithful Christians who desire to give witness to God’s truth. It is not my intent to focus on this verse; I use this as an illustration because it seems to be the one statement by Jesus that almost everyone knows. Esentially Jesus is saying that before we pass judgment on others, we need to accept realistic judgment on ourselves.
On another occasion Jesus said, Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment (Jn 7:24). Is it not significant that this verse is not so well known! Our culture bristles at the idea of absolute right and wrong. Yet “judging” is impossible not to do because all people have an innate sense of right and wrong. In the epistle James cautions us not to be deceived, and commends what is “good”. To judge is to discern or distinguish, to compare facts or ideas and form an opinion, to distinguish truth from falsehood. We cannot have order in the world, our societies or even our families without discerning what we perceive to be the good from the bad –– and that is judging. The greater truth that Jesus is always teaching and modeling is that we need to be committed to right judgment.
Today’s Gospel reading shows us a Jesus practicing that very thing. Notice how he addresses his hearers: you hypocrites.... And further, he quotes Isaiah passing negative judgment on worship (of all things!): This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me.... Is this not a declaration of judgment?! So much for the idea of Jesus teaching that God is happy with any expression of worship, as if God is some poor beggar who is happy to get whatever scrap of attention we might choose to give.
Remember where I started this? We live in a spiritually rebellious world.... We live in world that inverts things and often gets right and wrong backwards. So many people ignore what Jesus really teaches and then wonder why life is so often hard and messed up!
St John tells us in his first letter: The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1Jn 3:8). Notice again what Jesus says in today’s Gospel: ....the things that come out from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.
Contrary to popular opinion, people are not “basically good”. We were created good, but we are broken and we all fall short of the glory and holiness of God (see Romans 3:28). There are some things that are intrinsically evil. And while some of the sins Jesus mentions seem to get more attention than others, the hard truth is that “greed” is in the very same list as “adultery”; “arrogance” is a sin just as much as “murder”.
I do not want to proclaim a Jesus who only singles out certain sins. This is a warning not to selectively choose an image of Jesus that we think will make us look good. I certainly hope we know that fixing up our outward appearance does not fool God. There is no such thing as a “spiritual Mary Kay” (or any other cosmetic disguise). The Jesus we proclaim is the Son of God who knows that sin is so awful that he was willing to come into our world and die to save us. We need the salvation God has offered us through Jesus Christ. We need not only to be forgiven, we need to be healed in our souls so that we become holy. We all need to be forgiven and healed!
I hope that is why you are here today hearing the Gospel proclaimed. I hope that is what you are believing and expecting as you come to the Lord’s Table. It really does make a difference which Jesus we believe and trust.