Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
The Book of Deuteronomy provides this weekend’s first reading. In this reading, Moses presents to the people the revelation that he received of God’s law. It is God’s law, revealed by God, not the invention of Moses given on the whim of Moses.
While a towering, indeed unsurpassed, figure in Jewish religious history, Moses was only human. As are all humans, Moses was limited, lacking insight, knowledge and a view into the future — impaired, therefore, from making decisions wisely and open to missteps and to the consequences of missteps.
The good news in the face of these universal human limitations is that God constantly and lavishly gives guidance and forgives.
“Law” here is not an arbitrary edict. It is not relative. It is not necessarily a test. Instead, it is like the “law of gravity.” It is reality. To violate God’s law introduces confusion, or worse, into life. So, when humans behave in ways counter to God’s law, they upset things. They create the punishment that befalls them.
The Letter of James furnishes the second reading. Several men in the New Testament bear the name of James. Any of these men, or another, could have been the author of this book, but scholars today tend to think that the author was James, the foster brother of Jesus.
Reference to James as the Lord’s brother always raises questions. What about the most ancient Christian belief is that Mary always was a virgin? Was Jesus her only child? Who were James and the other “brothers and sisters” of the Lord mentioned in the New Testament?
The oldest thought among Christians, recorded in the centuries immediately after Christ and not at all contradicted by the Scripture, was that they were Joseph’s children from an earlier marriage. Under Jewish custom of the time, any foster siblings of Jesus legally would have been regarded as full brothers and sisters.
The older tradition influenced classical religious art, which depicted Joseph as an old man, but Mary was young. Here again, the implication in this art is that she was his second wife.
Maybe less likely, drawing upon other interpretations, they were the cousins of Jesus.
This reading insists that every good thing comes from God.
St. Mark’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. In this story, some bystanders notice that a few of the Lord’s disciples at least are careless in observing the law of Moses. It should be remembered that this law provided for virtually every circumstance a human would encounter, great or small.
Jesus replied that some gave God mere lip service or went through the motions of obedience. Instead, the Lord called for a true conversion of the heart, founded upon love for God and others, and manifesting itself in actual deeds and words.
His comments indicate that Jesus was God, the lawgiver. He could, and did, interpret the law.
These readings repeat an old theme. Theologians say that the most devastating effect of original sin was its leaving humans convinced that they are much more self-sustaining than they are. Every generation thinks that it possesses the final answers to the questions of life.
New generations come, and indeed they improve on the past. But often notions taken once as state-of-the-art are considered as old-fashioned as the steam engine is regarded today.
This does not mean that at last human knowledge has triumphed. Remember that humanity saw steam power as the summit of human ingenuity.
Now, we have improved our knowledge. It is not the end. Circumstances in the future will improve what we have today. We are not that smart. We need to learn.
In humility, and by facing facts, we should realize that we need God and God’s law.
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