Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time: Living a Simple Faith
The Youth Group meeting was going in the wrong direction. It was many years ago, in another parish, way before Life Teen. The structure would be a talk, followed by a sharing among the Teens. The topic that week was parents. After the talk about the Fourth Commandment, the Teen sharing started descending. Each Teen talked about how unfair his or her parents were. “My girlfriend and I were studying for this test, and I got home fifteen minutes late, beyond my curfew. Now I can’t go to the football game this Friday.” Etc, Etc. Then Cindy spoke, “I don’t have any curfew. I can come home anytime I want, even on school nights. I don’t have to show my parents my report card. I have no rules.” Then she looked at everyone and burst into tears saying, “Why don’t my parents love me?”
For Cindy, laws, or even rules for daily living in the home, showed loved. This is how the ancient Hebrews viewed the Law of God. It showed God’s love for them. He let them know what they needed to do to become the people he meant them to be. Today’s first reading from Deuteronomy embodies this. But as time went on, the people began to forget why they had the Law. And the regulations began to take a life of their own, an importance beyond the meaning for the regulations. This is what Jesus is addressing in today’s Gospel reading from Mark. The Pharisees complained that Jesus's disciples did not follow all of the legal customs of the Hebrew people. Jesus tells them that they are more concerned with human traditions than what is at the heart of God's commandments.
It is easier to follow external rules and rituals than to convert our hearts and our lifestyles to following Jesus Christ. It is easier for me to put all my attention on saying certain prayers required of priests than to be kind to people who irritate me. It is easier for you to come to Mass than to be kind to that nasty old man up the block who keeps your kids’ balls when they land in his back yard. It is easier for us all to do external acts of prayer than to confront those areas of darkness within us that lead us to sin. Many times people come to confession and say something like, "I got angry at the way some guy was driving on US 19,” without mentioning that they are still refusing to speak to a relative whom, deep within, they really hate. It is easier to be concerned with shallow external actions than with the deep interior decision to be a Christian in all situations.
There are still people who long for the days when the Church had a comment on the goodness or sinfulness of every action. In those sad old days sin was seen only as that upon which the Church took a specific stance. Therefore, a person could be thoroughly rotten on the inside, mean and nasty to others, but claim to be a good Catholic if that person followed all the specific “does” and “don'ts” of the faith. That is not the type of religion Jesus came to establish.
How do we distinguish the Law of God from mere human precepts? How do we know when we are being good Christians or not? It really is not that difficult. We only have to look into our hearts. Am I putting God first? Am I serving Him in others? Am I reverencing Him in every aspect of my life? That's all that matters. From this all the rest flows. Jesus said that the sum total of all the law was loving God with our whole hearts, our whole souls and our whole minds and loving our neighbor as ourselves. That's simple enough.
Simple is what we need in our daily practice of the faith. But where do we find this simplicity? There are two sentences in the Bible that answer this question for me, perhaps also for you. The first comes from today's second reading, the Letter of James. James writes, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." The word that James uses for religion is the Greek word "threskia". Threskia means "worshiping". What James is saying is that worshiping God means reaching out to those who need our help, caring for orphans and widows, and living for his Kingdom, keeping ourselves unstained by the world. James is really not limiting his thought to the young lady and children up the block whose husband and father died suddenly. He is speaking about all who need our love and support. We are worshiping God when we reach out to His Presence in those in need. “Whatever you do for the least of my brethren you do for me.”
The second sentence that simplifies how we are to live our faith comes from the Old Testament prophet Micah. Micah proclaims: “What does the LORD require of you? He has told you, ‘Do what is just, love what is kind, and walk humbly with your God.’"
“Do what is just. Justice in the bible means to be in a right relationship with God. Young people used to say, “Be a righteous dude.” That’s slang, but it really does capture how we are to live.
“Love what is kind.” I am absolutely convinced that if we were to have a few words with one of the apostles in heaven and we were to ask him, “What was Jesus really like when you followed Him on earth?” the apostle would respond, “He was the kindest man to ever live. And then He called us to follow Him, to be like Him, to be kind.”
“And walk humbly with your God.” We need to be aware that God has showered His Love on each of us not because we did this or that but because He sees in each of us a unique reflection of His own goodness, His Image and Likeness. We walk humbly with our God because we are well aware that He has been so good to each of us.
Religion is not difficult. All that is required of us is for us to take a close look at our interior attitudes and, then, let our external actions be a reflection of whom we are, followers of Jesus Christ.