Cultivating the Word That Has Been Planted in Us
User’s Guide to Sunday, Aug. 29
Sunday, Aug. 29, is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.
The readings for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time of Year B enter back into the Gospel of Mark, after having spent five weeks in the Bread of Life Discourse of John 6. This week’s readings focus on what it means to truly follow God through obeying his law and having religion that is pure.
The Book of Deuteronomy, from which the first reading is drawn (Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8), contains several discourses from Moses to the people of Israel at the end of Moses’ life. The Lord was on the verge of bringing them into the Promised Land 40 years before, when the Israelites refused to on account of their fear of the inhabitants. They did not believe in the Lord’s promise to give them the land and were punished with having to wander in the desert for four decades.
Now, a generation later, the Lord is about to bring the Israelites who are children of those who were punished into the Promised Land. Moses is giving them the statutes and decrees of the Lord that they are to observe carefully, that they “may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of [their] fathers, is giving [them]” (Deuteronomy 4:1). They agree to follow the Lord and his law and enter the Promised Land in the beginning of the Book of Joshua. We see throughout the Old Testament how when the Israelites follow the Lord with their hearts, he is with them, and he allows them to fail when they disobey him and worship false gods.
In the Gospel of Mark (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), Jesus encounters the Pharisees, who, while they follow the law to the letter, have another kind of unfaithfulness. Jesus quotes Isaiah, speaking about people who honor God “with their lips, but their hearts are far from [him],” and tells them that they “disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition” (Mark 7:8). For them, looking good before others is more important than following the law out of love for God and others.
Both of these readings remind us to follow God’s law not only with our actions, but also with our hearts. It is one thing to appear to follow God, but another to truly do so. Jesus tells us that “nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come from within are what defile” (Mark 7:15). While it is important to have morally good exterior acts and to guard our minds and hearts from taking in what is evil, how we respond in our hearts to the evil we encounter in the world is essential to being holy and following God’s commandments. No other person can force us to entertain evil thoughts of greed, unchastity, envy, arrogance, deceit, folly and anger. We are the ones who entertain these things with our own free will.
Like St. James writes in the second reading (James 1: 17-18, 21b-22, 27), we must “humbly welcome the word that has been planted in us,” for it is “able to save our souls” (James 1:21). We must cultivate the word planted in us, allow it to grow, and “be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22). And to have true religion, to offer God true worship, we must worship God directly but also act virtuously with charity toward others.
The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5) outlines what this pure religion looks like in doing justice toward others and thinking truth in our hearts. This Sunday is a good time to examine our consciences, asking ourselves if we are truly loving God and others in our actions and to humble ourselves before God and ask him to cultivate his word in us more fully.