BY: Rev Fr Stephen ‘Dayo Osinkoya



Deuteronomy 4: 1-2. 6-8
Psalm 15
James 1: 17-18. 21b-22. 27
Mark 7:1-8. 14-15. 21-23

Beloved in Christ, as God’s people of the Old Testament were commanded to obey the law, we today are also commanded to obey God through Jesus Christ. We are commanded to obey the teachings of the Catholic Church that echo the Ten Commandments, the teachings of the Lord Jesus and the Word of God that is found in the Holy Bible. These are our statutes and our ordinances. If we obey them, we will be blessed. If we disobey them, no blessing I should say. For Christ, “having been made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.” [Heb. 5:9] He will “inflict vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who [did] not obey His gospel.” [2 Thess. 1:8] “When He comes to be glorified by His saints and to be marvelled at on that day among all who have believed” [2 Thess. 1:9]

In the first reading, Moses tells the Chosen People that they have two great gifts that other nations do not have. One is that God is close to them so they can call upon him whenever they wish and he will listen to them. The other is that they have the Ten Commandments, God’s own revealed law to guide them. To be close to God and to observe the Divine Law is the basis of a happy life. This is why the Chosen People will be wise and intelligent if they live the covenant. The whole world will see how blessed they are if they do.

Today’s second reading from the letter of St. James calls on us also to accept and submit to the word which has been planted in us. The word of the Lord is not just outside of ourselves in a book; it has been planted in us, through baptism. By listening and obeying the Lord’s word, we are listening to what is deepest within ourselves. James reminds us in that reading that accepting and submitting to the Lord’s word means not just listening to it but doing it, doing what the word tells us. It is only by submitting to the Lord’s word in that full sense that what is important to God will become important to us.

From the Gospel passage, it was not as if the pious practices were bad per se, what Christ opposed was the attitude of Pharisees that such formal and merely external actions are what make a person religious. It is even worse when these were done for display or to show to the people how pious they were. In other words the real intent of the law has been lost for the sake of merely keeping the ritual. Jesus challenges them that it is not the ritual purification of hands, cups, kettles, etc., although this is important also for hygiene purposes, but a person is not in any way guaranteed an interior purification. That is, it is not through this ritual that a person is made clean or unclean. That is why Jesus says to the Pharisees by quoting Isaiah’s prophecy: “These people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines mere human precepts,” (vv. 6-7). What Jesus is reminding us here is that true religion is a matter of the heart. When we truly contemplate God and His values, what God holds important, then the outcome would be good actions. This is the point St James puts forward in the second reading thus “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). The ability to do good is given to us by God through His graces when we contemplate His Word.
Beloved, deep within us God has written his Law, and it is our honour and duty to obey it, as it is planted in our conscience. We will be judged according to the way we behave, based on what God has planted in our hearts, which our conscience knows to be right, true and proper. “It is from within,” Jesus tells us today, “that evil arises.” He wants us to look beyond current or majority’s opinion, the confrontations and problems of our own time, and strive for greater purity of heart. What the society has come to hold as important over time may not be as important to God. That is why we need to keep going back to the Scriptures and to the gospels in particular to learn over and over again what Jesus tells us is important to God. We have to keep going back to the source of our Christian tradition, which is the word of God, to allow that tradition to be purified and pruned. The Lord continues to speak to us through his word, reminding us of what is important to God and what, therefore, should be important to us.

Furthermore, the letter of James is very clear about what is important to God. In the words of our second reading, “Pure unspoilt religion in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world” (James 1:27). From this verse we can see that the first priority in God’s eyes is how we relate to one another, in particular how we relate to the weakest and most vulnerable among us. Jesus did not hesitate to heal the sick on the Sabbath even though the tradition of the elders held that this constituted work and so was unlawful. The words and deeds of Jesus are always our best guide to what is of real value in our own religious tradition and practices and what it is that may need to be put aside.

Let me tell you another story to buttress this. There were two monks who were out of the monastery on an errand. On their way back, they saw a beautiful woman sitting by the riverbank. She was crippled, but unknown to the monks, as she was sitting down. She asked if they could help her cross the river so her clothes would not get wet. The first monk vehemently refused. He said that he had a vow of chastity and had not touched a woman. The second monk told her to get on his back and without saying anything carried her across the river. The two return to the monastery in silence. But after some days, the monks were summoned to give an account of their errand. In his report, the first monk included the ‘indecent’ incident and lamented bitterly how he discouraged his fellow monk from carrying a woman on his back. The second monk replied that he indeed carried the beautiful woman on his back and had since forgotten all about it. The abbot there then understood that the first monk who has not forgotten and even reported the incident to him was the one who had carried the woman in his heart all the way back to the monastery, hence he was the one who has problem of chastity.

From this story we can see that what lies hidden in our heart is more important than the externalities. One monk did an act of charity which the other considers sinful, and had forgotten about it. Yet the one who considers it evil is the one who had carried the image of the beautiful woman all the way from the river bank to the monastery.

Beloved in Christ, the word of God is challenging us to holiness today, because our religion is holy. To be holy we have to be compassionate. Our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to be compassionate. Many of us have allowed religiosity and observance of the law to prevent us from showing compassion. Let us not forget that “Pure unspoilt religion in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world” (James 1:27). May God’s compassion be always in our hearts as it is in the heart of God our Father. Amen.

*Rev Fr Stephen ‘Dayo Osinkoya*

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