DETAILED HOMILY FOR THE 22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B
THEME: STRIVING TO BECOME TRUE WORSHIPPERS OF GOD THE FATHER (IFE CHUKWU N’IME MUO NA EZIOKWU)
BY: Rev Fr Gerald Muoka
HOMILY: R1 – Deut 4:1-2,6-8
R2 – Jas 1:17-18,21-22,27
GOSPEL – Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
A beautiful story was narrated about Nan-in, a powerful Buddhist scholar who spent his life teaching people on the value of meditation and intuition rather than ritual worship (Zen).
Nan-in once received an audience of an arrogant university professor who was too full of himself that he never believed in God or revealed mysteries, other than verifiable and empirical realities. He went to Nan-in to clarify further knowledge about the Buddhist Zen. Nan-in served the professor tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “It is overflowing! No more will go in!” the proud professor ranted. Nan-in said, “You are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I teach u about Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Beloved in Christ, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus encounters a group of people, the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees, who like Nan-in’s visitor, are too full of themselves. These men were a set of religious and Aristocratic nationals who meddled and substituted true religion with lips service, holier-than-thou-attitude, impressionistic spirituality, hypocrisy, eye service and emphasis on the externals. They were too full of themselves that they refused to learn from Jesus, the eternal logos and wisdom.
The entire readings of this Sunday’s Liturgy focus more on the features and characteristics of true religion. It is not just a scrupulous, external observance of rules, laws, traditions and rituals. It is a loving, docile and relationship with God expressed in obeying His Commandments, worshipping Him, recognizing His presence in other human beings, and rendering them loving and humble service. Prayers, rituals, Sacraments, and religious practices only help us to practice this true religion in our daily lives.
The first reading explains that religion is a Covenant relationship with a caring, providing and protecting God, fostered by keeping His Commandments given through Moses. God gave Israel the Law so that the Israelites might keep their Covenant with Yahweh and thank Him for His love and fidelity to His Chosen People.
St. James defines true religion as keeping the word of God and doing His will by helping the needy, the poor and the weak in the community. He challenges Christians to become doers of the word, not merely hearers.
Whereas, in the gospel reading, Jesus corrects that ideology of seeing impressionism and hypocrisy as hallmarks of true religion. Jesus confronts the Pharisees because of their hypocrisy. They never observed the law that they multiplied for their people.
*TRUE RELIGION VS HUMAN LAWS*
The term religion is derived from the Latin “religare,” which means, “to bind.” or the Latin Religio, which was used in the sense of ‘life under monastic vows’) to depict, ‘obligation, bond, reverence.’ This binding, bond, obligation or reverence is owned to no other than God. It is a personal obligation or binding to God.
So, what we call faith that leads us to the guarantee of the things we hope for and the certainty of the things we do not see (Heb 11:1), begins with encountering God in our hearts; our faith is expressed in the good that we do and the praise we offer in the depths of our hearts, not simply in words and rituals performed “outside” of ourselves.
Moreover, every true religious practice is primarily aimed at pleasing God and not man. God sees even in the secrets but man judges only by the externals. The kind of human being we are begins in the values of the heart, the place where God dwells within — but the evil we are capable of, the hurt we inflict on others, the degrading of the world that God created also begins “within,” when God is displaced by selfishness, greed, anger, hatred.
In the Gospel reading, we see Jesus confronting the Scribes and Pharisees, who were regarded as experts. These experts who had misconstrued the true features and elements of True Religion found Jesus’ teachings an open violation of the “Traditions of the Elders,” and judged Jesus’ implied and spoken claims blasphemous. They also noticed that Jesus’ disciples omitted the required ritual washing before meals.
The jews considered two laws:
(i) The “Written Law” or Torah or the Law of Moses (the first five books of the Bible),
(ii) The “Oral Law” (clarifications of, and additions to, the Mosaic Law given by scribes from the fifth century B.C.), popularly known an the ‘Traditions of the Elders.”
These oral laws, known in Jesus’ time as the “Traditions of the Elders,” were a series of oral traditions intended to act as “a fence around the Law,” so that the Mosaic Law itself, and, thus, the Covenant, would never be violated. These laws were equally holy and binding. The original, noble intention of the scribes who formulated these traditions, and of the Pharisees who practiced them, was to have their religion permeate all Israel in order to purify the people in their daily lives and, thus, make them holy as their God is Holy.
In spite of these noble intentions, however, by the time of Jesus, their religion had degenerated, being reduced to the exact performance of external rituals only. Small wonder, then, that the scribes and Pharisees were scandalized by the revolutionary teaching of Jesus, by the unique Divine and Messianic claims Jesus made, often by implication, and by Jesus’ violations of the “Traditions of the Elders”!
Hence, the supreme governing body of Judaism, the Sanhedrin, sent from Jerusalem as observers a team of scribes (experts in the Jewish Law), to assess Jesus’ claims, miracles, violations of traditions, and controversial teachings. A few of the local Pharisees accompanied the experts and started questioning Jesus when they noticed that Jesus’ disciples had omitted the ritual cleansing of hands before a party meal.
(1) *WE NEED TO EMPHASIZE MORE ON THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW THAN MERE RITUAL PRACTICES.*
The essence of every law is to foster love of God and man. Love itself is the spirit behind every law. Every law that does not promote love is ungodly. In the Good Samaritan story, the priest who featured, obeyed the Sabbath obligation, that is the letters written in the law, while sidelining the essence of the Sabbath law, which is love.
For example, our Sunday obligation is intended to allow us to worship God in the parish community, to offer our lives to God, to ask His pardon for sins, to thank God for His blessings, and to receive Divine Life and strength from Him in Holy Communion. Our daily family prayers are meant to thank God for His blessings, to present the family’s needs before God, to ask pardon for sins, to maintain the spirit of unity and love in the family, and to keep a close relationship with God.
(2) *HUMAN DOCTRINES SHOULD NOT BE TAUGHT AS DOGMAS OF FAITH*
The major contention between Jesus and the Scribes/Pharisees was that of obeying imposed human legislation than Divine law. The Jews considered two laws: (a) Divine Laws contained in the 5 books of Moses (Torah) (b) Written Laws, written and interpreted by the elders (scribes). These human laws were much more enforced and complied to more than the Divine laws. The same is applicable in our time, very often, we keep away from farming on a particular farmland on Eke, Orie, Afor or Nkwo market days. We avoid fixing marriage ceremonies on Eke days in some part of Igboland. We stigmatize some people in the name of osu, ume, diala or ohu and cut them off from some societal, social and marital communion, all in the name of the Law of the Land. Are we really better than the Scribes and Pharisees?
(3) *EXTERNAL PIETY WITHOUT INTERNAL HOLINESS IS HYPOCRISY* .
The major bane and threat to modern day Christianity is that of impressionism, lips-service, washing the outside of the cup and inauthenticity. Jesus advocates and prefers religion imbued with sincerity of heart, internal disposition, purity, and holiness to one misconstrued with mere external ritual observances. There is no need washing the outside of the cup when the inside is stinking. Pay more attention to the inside than the outside
A story was told about two pious Marian Devotees, whose knacking at the market square metamorphosed into a dirty fight. The uncontrollable quarrel lured them to tear each other’s dress. While they were pursuing and hitting each other with heavy blows, the parish Angelus bell rang; guess what? They both stopped the fight, wearing some pretentious devotional postures, with their necks placed at angle 90, one of them in tuned, “The angel of the Lord declared onto Mary.” The other one responded, “And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.” The onlookers who had tried tirelessly to separate the fight were surprised and amazed. They equally emulated their devotional gestures and joined them in saying the Angelus, thinking it was over. Immediately the Angelus was concluded, they made the heavy and noticeable Sign of the Cross; guess what? The fight continued after the Angelus break. They went on pursuing each other with heavy blows.
Beloved, Jesus insists that we must Keep our hearts holy since the heart is the source of sins, vices and evil habits. The observance of traditions and of washing rituals does not correct the internal motivations and inclinations that really defile people.
MAY GOD GRANT US A SINCERE AND UPRIGHT HEART THAT YEARNS FOR HIM ABOVE ALL ELSE – A HEART THAT WORSHIPS GOD WITHOUT DECEIT. AMEN.
*FR GERALD MUOKA*