22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B ON AUGUST 29, 2021 (R. 1: Deuteronomy 4: 1- 2, 6- 8; Psalm 15: 2- 5; R. 2: James 1: 17- 18, 21b- 22, 27; Gospel: Mark 7: 1- 8, 14- 15, 21- 23)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
It is midnight. The priest is on his way to the hospital to administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. A young man stops him at gunpoint. He says, “Your life or your money?” The priest unzips his jacket to remove his wallet, and the robber sees his Roman collar and says, “Oh! Sorry Father. I did not know you were a priest, I don’t need your money.” On hearing this, the priest out of excitement takes a cigarette from his pocket and offers the robber. The robber says to him, “No, thanks, Father. I gave up smoking for Lent” He is catholic enough to give up smoking for Lent, but he is not catholic enough to give up stealing for Lent. Sounds like the Scribes and the Pharisees, right?
In the Gospel passage, the Pharisees with some scribes come to confront Jesus because his disciples ate their meals without washing their hands. Their concern here is not about hygiene but about religious ritual. The law originally prescribed this religious ritual of handwashing for priests before they could eat the meat of animals sacrificed in the Temple, but the scribes and the Pharisees decided to extend this to everybody.
Jesus responds to them by taking them to the heart of the matter. He reminds them that they are paying more attention to their human inventions than to the original law given by God. He tells them that clean hearts are better than clean hands. He challenges them to go beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. The law is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Any observance of the law that undermines the love of God or the love of neighbor is dangerous.
Another dangerous attitude towards the law is that of emphasizing or overemphasizing that aspect of the law that we find easy to observe and condemning those people who struggle with that while pretending not to be aware of the part of the law that we transgress. How can you be so righteous to defend the right of an adult to marry whomever he wants to marry, yet you find nothing wrong with terminating the life of an unborn baby? How can you be so catholic as to preach against abortion, yet you leave no stone unturned when it comes to making life miserable for a full grown person because he/she is not of the same race as you? Before you condemn someone else, be sure you have kept all the laws yourself.
The rigorous observance of rules and regulations also has the danger of giving people the feeling of entitlement. Such a slavish attitude towards the law makes people calculate the number of good things they have done and think that God owes them some reward. A Catholic for instance who comes to Mass on a hot day rather than being at the beach might think God must ensure all the traffic lights turn green on his/her way home from Church. Others might think that having turned in their envelopes and donated some money to the Church, God must provide a good parking spot for them whenever they go grocery shopping. Jesus totally condemns the religion that presents the relationship between God and human beings in terms of obedience to precepts. He rather encourages a relationship that is powered by love, freely given and freely received.
Permit me to end with these lines from John (Gibby) Gilbert titled “Paid In Full.”
A little boy came up to his mother in the kitchen
one evening while she was fixing supper,
and he handed her a piece of paper that he had been
writing on. After his mom dried her hands on an
apron, she read it, and this is what it said:
For cutting the grass: $5.00
For cleaning up my room this week: $1.00
For going to the store for you: .50
Baby-sitting my kid brother while you went shopping: .25
Taking out the garbage: $1.00
For getting a good report card: $5.00
For cleaning up and raking the yard: $2.00
Total owed: $14.75
Well, his mother looked at him standing there,
and the boy could see the memories flashing
through her mind. She picked up the pen, turned
over the paper he’d written on, and this is what
“For the nine months I carried you while you grew inside me: No Charge.
For all the nights that I’ve sat up with you, doctored and prayed for you: No Charge.
For all the trying times, and all the tears that you’ve caused through the years: No Charge.
For all the nights that were filled with dread, and for the worries I knew were ahead: No Charge.
For the toys, food, clothes, and even wiping your nose: No Charge.
When you add it up, Son, the cost of my love is: No Charge.”
When the boy finished reading what his mother
had written, there were big tears in his eyes, and
he looked straight up at his mother and said,
“Mom, I sure do love you.”
And then he took the pen and in great big letters he wrote: “PAID IN FULL!”