Sunday, Aug. 30, is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15:2-5; James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Today’s readings should be alarming to U.S. citizens in particular. The last thing we hear in the Gospel is a list of sins to avoid that seem torn from today’s headlines.
But let’s look at the context the Church gives us first. The first reading reminds us that fidelity to the Lord is the greatest attribute of a nation: “‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law, which I am setting before you today?” A nation that chooses the harder but better thing, a nation that decides to do the right thing even when it costs, inspires great praise. Next, on the individual level, moral courage brings peace. “One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord,” says the Psalm, “shall never be disturbed.”
After that set-up, the misdeeds described by Jesus in the Gospel are quite a contrast. “From within people, from their 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,” he says. Think of his list and how it relates to our own nation’s morality. Unchastity? America has so lost the meaning of human sexuality that it has redefined marriage. Murder? Government-funded Planned Parenthood makes money from the body parts of innocent children. Adultery? In the form of Internet pornography, it has become commonplace. Blasphemy? Many hold nothing sacred and think nothing of mocking God.
How did it get this bad? The readings have the answer to that question, too. Jesus speaks about the Pharisees, the religious people of his day, and says: “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” The Pharisees were not always like that. The Pharisees started out as leaders of a Jewish renewal. Their hypocrisies started small and built over time, until they were distant from God. In the same way, the United States didn’t start out selling baby body parts and rejecting childbearing and child-rearing as the goal of marriage. First came quiet compromises, giving an inch here and an inch there, until we changed religion from divine challenge to human consolation.
What do we need to do now? “Be doers of the word and not hearers only,” writes St. James. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” That undefiled religion is still capable of inspiring the world. If we let it.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas,
where he lives with April, his wife and in-house theologian and consultant, and their children.