Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
September 2, 2012
Reading 1 Dt 4:1-2, 6-8
Responsorial Psalm Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
R. (1a) One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
Reading 2 Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Gospel Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
A little girl said to her mother, “Mom, what are the 10 Commandments?” Her mother replied, “Those are God's ten commands to His people.” She replied, with some frustration, “Really? If God has only ten commands, how come you got SO MANY?!”
From the earliest part of our lives, we bump up against the commands of others with our stubborn wills, which want to do what they want to do. Our faith, too, imposes upon us things that we might not always want to do: We are not permitted to tell a lie; We are not to steal; We must honor our parents; We are to honor God by attending Mass each week; We are not permitted to keep all we earn, but are obliged to give a portion of our wealth to the poor; We must forgive each other when others have hurt us; Etc.
Aren’t we tempted to think, “if God really respected us, he’d not always be telling us what to do, but would rather let us do what we want to do!” Today’s scriptures speak to this issue of God telling us what to do, and why God would choose to do this—in a nutshell, God “tells us what to do” precisely because he respects us and, even more, because he loves us.
Notice the astonishing thing that the God says to the people about why he gives them his law to direct their lives—From the book of Deuteronomy: “The nations . . . will hear of all [my] statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’7For . . . what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” Israel is to be the envy of the nations precisely because God has given them a law that is just, which directs their lives for the good of all. They are not left in darkness, but have divine guidance.
Then Jesus goes on to reflect upon our observance of God’s law, chastising the Pharisees who have turned the observance of God’s law into empty gestures, rather than ones that show that the just ways of living life. The law of God, given in the scriptures and reaching its fulfillment in the teachings of Jesus, who said that the greatest of the commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor, direct our lives into all that is good, all that is peaceful, all that is holy (of God). In the end, the bending of what we want to what God asks of us does not lessen our lives, but rather makes them fuller!
This is what G.K. Chesterton, the late 19th century theologian, speaks of in his book, Orthodoxy [Chapter 9] There, he speaks to those who complain that all the rules of the Church, as expressed by “those priests who are always telling us what to do” restrict our lives” and darken the otherwise joyful world. He says:
[I speak to] the view that priests darken and embitter the world. I look at the world and simply discover that they don’t. Those countries in Europe which are still influenced by priests are exactly the countries where there is still singing and dancing and colored dresses and art in the open-air. Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasures of Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the center of the island; and their song had ceased.
So, it turns out that God’s law, properly lived, enhances our lives, whereas our rejection of their truths, imperil our freedom, our joy, our peace. The longer we live, the more we realize: We don’t always make the best choices. Life can be confusing, murky, so that we don’t know how to act. The Good news of God is that he respects and loves us so much that he chooses not to leave us in the dark, or to our confused ends, but shows us the way to live that is peaceful, joyful, life to the fullest.
For me, though, I must constantly make the leap of faith that says, “I don’t always know what is best, I must trust in God’s commands and follow them.” If we continue to do so, practicing this time and time again, behold two things, two joyful things happen: FIRST, I find joy, peace and full life in my living a life according to God’s commands, loving God and loving neighbor. SECOND, the living of God’s commands gets easier. It becomes more and more a habit and BEHOLD, I want to do what God wants me to do!
Then I discover, more and more, how true it is that God gives me his commands precisely because he does love me and respect me! Then it becomes crystal clear—how does God respect me? By loving me so much that he has shown me the way to live the life he has given to me to the fullest. That’s a loving Father! Let’s help each other be obedient to God’s commands, so we can all live the fullness of life!