22th of Ordinary Time B –
By Fr. Fabien, sx
The three readings of this twenty-second Sunday in ordinary time underscore the importance of welcoming and living the Word of God which gives us the benefits of living according to it, namely his commandment, statutes, and teachings that express His will.
The first benefit we get in embracing and obeying His commandment is life. The observance of God’s commandment gives us life. Moses says “the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live and may enter in and take the possession of the land…” Even in the second reading, Saint James invites us to welcome the word that has been planted in us and that is able to save our souls. The apostle continues saying that the Father willed to give us birth by the word of truth.
God’s word is our compass that points us the right direction; it is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path according to the Psalmist (Ps 119:105).
The second benefit is that the careful observance of God’s word gives us wisdom and intelligence. God’s people or God’s man and woman are characterized by intelligence and wisdom drawn from God’s word. We are recognized as people who honor God if we respect His decrees; and we will become a great nation before other nations. Saint Paul warns the Christians: “The name of God must not be blasphemed among the gentiles because of you.” (Rom 2:24).
That is why Saint James urgently invites us to: “Be doers of the word and not listeners only, deluding yourselves”. The followers of Jesus cannot satiate themselves with just listening to the word of God without putting it into practice (Jas 1:22). This reiterates the invitation of Jesus: it is not enough to say “Lord, Lord” in order to share in the fullness of life that He brings. It is not enough to listen to the word of God, but there is something more: to put the word of God into practice by improving our life, by converting ourselves, by loving one another and by paying attention to others, especially the least, the last and the lost. If we are not capable of responding in love to those in need and those who are in a community, it will be more difficult to respond to the needs of people who are far from us. Our action towards those in need and with whom we interact will be the real test of our genuine love of God, of neighbor, and a test of our faith.
In the Gospel, Jesus warns us not to draw a parallel between God’s commandment and human tradition, or to follow human tradition at the expense of God’s word, as this can be our temptation: To give more importance to the tradition than to the commandment of God, to observe carefully the tradition, to follow without difficulties what the advertisements say and what the stars do.
In the Gospel, Jesus responds to the Pharisees, citing the prophecy of Isaiah: “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, in vain do they worship me…” With these words, Jesus denounces the religion of appearance in favor of the religion of the heart, the religion that is pure and undefiled before God (Jas 2:27). Jesus denounces the hypocrisy of Pharisees, the religiosity manifested only with the rites, prescriptions, exteriority, and appearances and less inclined to love and mercy. The risk of religion is to give more importance to exterior cleanliness than to the purity of heart. So, the habits that Jesus denounces here are the ritualism that consists of the separation from what we celebrate and our life, the formality that consists of paying more attention to what appears externally; and then, the moralism that consists of considering ourselves better than others because we carefully respect rules and norms which don’t actually transform us to be more Christ-like.
Today the invitation for us is to live out and treasure God’s word in our day to day life so that we may have life, become intelligent and wise people; to worship God sincerely and love one another without duplicity, hypocrisy and double intention.