Deacon Cornellís Homily


Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8
James 1:17-18,21b-22,27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


August 29-30, 2009 Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Let us be doers of the word, not hearers only, deluding ourselves

This past week at a bible group meeting, we got into a discussion about how we see the ten commandments. One of our group, Adam Tocci said that he now understands the commandments very differently from how he understood them when he was younger. Instead of looking at the ten commandments as a set of "thou shalt nots", rules that were imposed on us and that had to be obeyed just because they existed, he said that he now sees them as a description of how human beings work. In other words, human beings are not being restricted from killing one another by an arbitrary rule God has imposed on us but rather that the fifth commandment is a warning that tells us that killing another human prevents us from being truly human. The same is true for all the other commandments. I sometimes refer to them as being an owners manual for being human. Just like the owners manual for a toaster says do not use this while standing in the shower, the human owners manual contains these warnings we call the ten commandments.

Today's readings remind us that having the wrong image about the scriptures is not a new activity. They also tell us that it is extremely important that we have the right image if we are to live our lives fully. Bishop Robert Moreau is an auxiliary bishop of Green Bay. He is a poet and author and a very popular speaker. In several of the presentations I have heard him give he uses the following syllogism to explain why images are so important. He says that images determine our attitude, and our attitude determine our behavior. So if we want to change our behavior (or our child's or friend's, etc.) we best start by trying to change our (their) image. Trying to change attitudes by imposing behavioral changes just doesn't work. Look at the failure of trying to change attitudes about discrimination by legislation.

Unfortunately, from our readings to our experience today, we know that for thousands of years people have misunderstood the commandments much as Adam used to. They see them as arbitrary rules imposed on us instead of gifts that help us understand how humans are made and how they work.

Our first reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy. Biblical scholars tell us that this book was first written down after the return from exile in Babylon, in the sixth century BC, which would put it 600 years after the exodus from Egypt. The people who wrote this have centuries of experience of somehow surviving even though they are a small, weak, and insignificant nation when others, like the Babylonian, Assyrians, Meades, Hittites, and others have disappeared. Even as they were being invaded and dragged off to exile and enslaved, the surrounding peoples were amazed at the wisdom of their laws, and the nearness and protection of their God. So the author of this Book puts words that express this experience in the mouth of Moses. Moses is telling the people of Israel how to think about this law they have just received. It is a gift from God to the Israel that gives them wisdom that the surrounding people do not have. It is truth that sets them free rather than a set of rules that restrict them. The injunction to neither add nor subtract is a standard a section that is found in other codes of the time, such as the Hammurabi Code and is meant to convey that this is truth revealed by God not manufactured by humans. The reason that the author of Deuteronomy is writing this passage down is that even after all this experience most of the people of Israel still look at the law as something to endure or worse, to get around. As the prophets recount over and over again, failure to act from a correct image of the law is what led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent 70 year exile.

As we are reminded by the passage from the letter of James, religion is not about knowing or even believing something as the end result. Those are only important in guiding us to act, to live out the truth. Belief without action is worthless. Of course, action without true belief can be damaging. The importance of having the right image of the law and of scripture is so that our actions which flow from that image will be right. As Jesus points out in the Gospel, it is what is inside us, the image we have of who God is and who we are that determines how we act. The Pharisees at the time thought of the law and the scriptures as things that would impose right behavior from the outside. That is how many of us think about the commandments and Church teachings today, isn't it? And of course that leads to people using the law and scripture and religion to increase the burden on people rather than free them to be more human.

On the other end of the spectrum, some people hear today's Gospel and think Jesus is saying that we should not pay attention to the commandments or Church teachings. That is not what Jesus is saying, not even in this context, and certainly not in the context of his whole life. As the reading from the letter of James reminds us, religion is about leading us to live in a certain way, to act rightly. The commandments and the beatitudes and all the teachings of the church are gifts from God that are meant to help us live rightly, to live more fully as humans. They do that by revealing to us the truth about who God is and who humans are, creatures made in the image of God. If we ignore them, it is like ignoring the warnings in the various user manuals. And, like ignoring the warning in our cell phone manuals not to text while driving, ignoring the true meaning of the commandments and scripture and church teachings can lead to disaster. Even picking and choosing which teachings we find easy to agree with and disregarding the rest is a dangerous way to form the correct images in our minds.

Our readings today challenge us to study scripture and the teachings of the church, especially those passages or teachings that we find difficult to embrace or understand. Of course that is not easy; we need to put in the effort, and make sure that we are using the proper sources to learn from. And it is a life long process. We are never finished learning what the scriptures mean or what they teach us about living more fully as humans. We are blessed to live in this time and in this parish. We have so many more resources available to us to study scripture and understand it. Here at St. Isidore's we have our Generations of Faith whole community formation program; we have several bible groups already active and are willing to help form others; we have our liturgies which, if we let them, can teach us so much about the real meaning of our faith.

So let us humbly welcome the word that has been planted in us and is able to save our souls. Let us be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding ourselves.

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