B Cycle – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 21
Mk. 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Speaking to Moses, God tells each of us we have been given the law so that we might live. Live in a way that we show the world that God desires for us to enjoy the fullness of his blessings. If we only pay attention to those words of Moses, we will come away with a belief that all that is required of us is to follow the laws and dictates of our faith and all will be well. The problem with that attitude is we do fail to follow all the laws. Our failure then fills us with not only guilt but doubt. Doubt that we have done enough to inherit eternal life, which we translate as heaven, life after death.
To grasp how that kind of thinking works against us we must go back to the beginning of creation and why God made us in his image and gave us dominion of all his creation. We were created to live forever, enjoying intimacy with God, and interacting with God daily. The world was without sin and all creation reflected the glory of God and was more beautiful than the world we experience today. We know sin, entered the world because doubt was planted in the hearts of Adam and Eve. The question, “did God really say, not to eat of the fruit” caused them to grapple with why God would deny them the fruit of that one tree. Their conclusion was, God was withholding something from them and if they ate it, they would obtain what was missing.
That doubt in God’s goodness is the root of all our sinfulness. Sin tempts us to obtain what we believe is missing in our lives. The simple truth is we cannot root out the cause of our sins because our human nature is always telling us we are missing something. This brings us back to adhering on the law as a measure of our goodness and obtaining everlasting life by our obedience. But following the law cannot do anything but define sin for us. The law only tells us what sin is (Rom.3:20) but it cannot prevent us from sinning (Rom. 7:7). The law only condemns us and does nothing to free us.
Therefore, the law can only act as our disciplinarian, which keeps us in check. However, we will always try to change the boundaries of the law. Do any of us drive the speed limit or do we drive at a speed we believe will not cause us to be stopped by the police?
Jesus in today’s gospel is telling the Pharisees, who by the way were strict observers of the law, the law will never be followed because our hearts will always seek to get around the law. Thus, we will always feel we are displeasing to God and because we displease God, we withdraw from the very grace that will change us. Jesus tells us out of our hearts come “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within, and they defile.”
Those words from Jesus should wake us up to the futility of believing we are ok if we just are able to follow the law. We can readily say we avoided the sins of murder, adultery, licentiousness, unchastity and theft. While we minimize the impact of evil thoughts, envy, arrogance, or folly because they are small sins. Folly is unavoidable because we all do stupid things, or we make silly inappropriate remarks which we quickly regret. Yet Jesus lumps folly in with the most evil of sins. Why would he do that if those sins are minor. The point is we do not get a pass because we commit venial sins?
All sin separates us from God and yet God created us for this intimate relationship with himself and that plan did not end when sin entered the world through the sin of Adam. God immediately upon the expulsion of Adam and Eve from that perfect place, we lost what God intended for us. Death entered the world and pain, suffering, wars, famine, and all evil we experience was unleashed upon the earth. But God immediately began to unfold his plan to restore us to our former glory given to us at creation. That plan involves Jesus Christ dying for our sins and the Holy Spirit transforming our hearts and motivating us to automatically follow the law.
By the Spirit transforming our hearts we are released from the law, and we become new creations and now live by the law of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6). God from the moment we lost eternal life began a plan so we may experience eternal life first here on earth living in the kingdom of God and then ultimately by living forever with God in that perfect place.
We are called to live a life that reflects our belief in God’s plan for our lives. First here on earth by our hearts being changed. This is the promise of God that we will be transformed, the old self will be replaced by a new desire for the things of God. Not because we are following the law but because we believe in God’s promises. By our embracing Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we know we are pleasing to God because he sees what he created not the mess we made of our lives.
This week we are looking not at miracles of healing, or multiplication of loaves, or listening to Jesus offering us food for our journey or satisfy our thirst by the living water which will flow from him. No, we are looking at the very reason he came, to restore us and to change our impression of not only what sin is but the only way to overcome sin is by the action of the Spirit within us. We will never overcome sin by strictly following the law. The Pharisees tried it and failed.
There is one law that sums up what we must do, and it is to love God with our whole heart, mind, strength, and soul. Loving God is achieved by developing intimacy with God through spending time with God. Listening to God, speaking to God, praying to God, reading, and discovering the person of God in the scriptures. Intimacy with God does not come by some person telling you about their meditation but by discovering your own responses to the words of God.