“Religion Is About Changing our Hearts!”
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – B
“The definition of religion is a controversial and complicated subject in religious studies with scholars failing to agree on any one definition. One definition is: a particular system of faith and worship.”
There is nothing subtle about today’s readings. They are straightforward and blunt! In today’s gospel, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were accusing him of ignoring their laws and traditions. Jesus turned the tables on them and told them they’re missing the main point of what religion is all about. Besides contradicting some of God’s laws, Jesus condemned them because they stressed only external observance. Jesus reminds them (and us) that true religion is about a change of heart.
In our society we encounter an overwhelming number of laws, some are from God, some from our religious leaders and many from our government and civil authority. Law is important! Without law there is chaos and anarchy. At the same time freedom is also important. We live in a society where too many people think freedom means doing whatever they want without having to answer to any authority. Without laws there would be no freedom for we would be spending all our energy simply trying to avoid being annihilated.
Moses reminded God’s people in today’s first reading about the importance of keeping the law, and that they would be admired by their contemporaries, and they would prosper. This is key – we must balance the restrictions that laws place upon us with the freedoms we want to enjoy in our lives. This requires maturity on the part of all of us, and we want to be able to keep that balance and most of us manage to do a fairly good job!
Sometimes when we get tempted, we might think swell if no one is watching and I don’t get caught, then maybe I can get by with doing something I shouldn’t be doing or avoiding something I should. When we think that way, we’re becoming like the Pharisees and thinking only about the externals. This could easily be a sin of commission or a sin of omission. This is what Jesus is talking about.
Now, external observance is very important. We might feel like clobbering someone over the head with a stick, but it is a better thing not to do so. St. James, in our second reading tell us: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” If you want a good example of this, go home today and read the Ten Commandments; they are mostly about external behavior: worship God, respect his name, honor our parents, do not kill, lie, steal, commit adultery. Only the last two are about what goes on in our hearts: when we want to take possession of what belongs to someone else. Our feelings are not always the purest or the best, but if we behave in a kindly and appropriate manner, that is good! Jesus wants nothing less than for our hearts to filled with his love and grace.
Whether someone is watching or not, it’s when we have a right heart that we do the right thing. That is a high level of moral maturity. It’s a goal we try to teach our children, it’s a goal we strive for ourselves. But until we get to that point, we stumble along with prayer and the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist to help us on our way.
God bless us, and all who live in simplicity of heart!
Duet 4:1-2, 6-8
James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23