Fr. Ben’s homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Theme: THEOLOGICAL JURISPRUDENCE: INTERPRETING THE LAW FROM THE HEART!
By: Ben Agbo (Rev Fr)
Homily for Sunday August 29 20212021
* Deut 4 : 1 – 8, James 1 : 17 – 27, Mk 7 : 1 – 23.
The purity quotient of every religion lies in the sincerity of the adherents (especially their leaders) in keeping the dictates of that religion. Jesus once told a Samaritan woman that the time has come when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, Jn 4 : 24. The performance of any religious rituals therefore, must lead us ultimately to a good relationship with God and neighbour otherwise that religion becomes fake.
The Pharisees believed that the traditions which came down to them orally were not opposed to revelation. So they went ahead to propagate a very vast legal complex of over 600 laws and traditions evolving from the Torah. One of such was the custom of hand washing before meals addressed by Jesus in today’s gospel. Jesus lets us realize that when we lose the spirit behind the law, we end up practicing useless human regulations.
B. MOSAIC MAGNA CARTA OF SINS
God did not give us 10 suggestions through Moses but 10 commandments. The Mosaic taxonomy of sin is bilateral; the 1st three emphasizes sins committed directly against God himself; Idolatry, Sacrilege, Neglect of Sabbath day Worship while the rest emphasizes sins committed against our neighbour; Disrespect of Parents, Murder, Fornication, Theft, Slander, Covetousness, Envy.
Moses praises the wisdom of God in giving the Israelites such wise commandments in today’s 1st reading and commands them not to add or substract from them.
C. JESUS’ APPROACH TO SIN
In today’s gospel, Jesus reproaches the Scribes and Pharisees against externalism and gives us a deeper approach to sin/ fault/ crime by looking at their origin and effect. He traces majority of sins as coming from the heart and so exert negative effect against our purity, eg fornication and adultery or sins that exert negative effect against human charity, eg theft and murder. From Jesus’ own taxonomy we can see the following dimensions;
(i) The Thought side of sin; eg pride and avarice.
(ii) The Word side of sin; eg slander and deceit.
(iii) The Action side of sin; eg theft, murder, fornication and adultery.
(iv) The Omission side of sin; eg folly, indecency and lack of generosity.
(v) The Heart side of sin; eg malice, envy and unforgiveness.
* Jesus teaches us that if our hearts are filled with bitterness, deceit and pride, for instance, even our best external acts like prayer and offering will not make us holy before God.
D. PAUL’S MAGNA CARTER OF SINS
Paul’s approach to the question of sin is also deep. He looks thoroughly at sin from their effects and makes the following distinctions;
(i) Sins of defilement; sexual vice, impurity and sensuality.
(ii) Sins of dangerous communication with Satan; worship of false gods and sorcery.
(iii) Sins of temper and temperaments; antagonism, rivalry, jealousy, bad temper, quarrels, disagreements, factions and malice.
(iv) Sins of intemperance; drunkenness and orgies.
The performance of religious rituals without charity for its motive can become an obstruction to holiness. Of course, rituals are necessary; they make religion permeate the practical day to day life of the people but we must never allow religion to degenerate into legalism and mere exhibition of perfunctory rituals. Vima Dasan says: ‘To be properly wicked, you need not break the law, just follow it to the letter’.
* Story of Nazruddin the hypocrite who picked money in the market, wanted to take it but wanted to follow what the law says.
* Story of an old woman traveling in a bus from Calabar to Lagos who requested to be told whenever they reach Benin. Everybody slept off and even the driver forgot. She insisted they take her back to Benin which they did only to discover that she was instructed just to take her drugs at Benin – Danger of not understanding the spirit behind any law.
* Story of the Muslim fanatic pursuing an enemy to kill him when at the hour of prayer he stops, prays and continues the chase.
There are times when laws become obstacles to justice and decency in human relations. Let us just highlight three cases;
(i) The problem of minimalism; Compromising the law as much as possible by asking the question: ‘How far do I go without commiting mortal sin?
(ii) The problem of maximalism; Stretching the law too far by multiplying more rules (human traditions) than is necessary, eg the Pharisees’ laws on washing of hand, tithes, fasting, etc.
(iii) The problem of externalism; Emphasizing the externals (rituals) without the heart being clean before God.
Today’s 2nd reading makes it clear that pure and unspoilt religion is charity to those in need and purity in relation to the Word of God. We must accept and submit to the Word of God which has been planted in us and can save our souls and avoid all forms of hypocrisy. ‘Hypocrites’ says the scriptures, ‘honour God only with lip service but their hearts are far from him….the doctrines they teach are only human regulations’. Happy Sunday dear friends!