That you may Live
(22nd Ordinary Sunday: Deuteronomy 4:1-8; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-23)
When is the last time someone said to you, “You Catholics are truly a wise and intelligent people. Who else has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which you have.” Probably never.
In the first reading, however, Moses anticipates that other nations will be impressed with the laws and statutes God gave them. He calls on his people to “hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live.” In other words, the Law, far from being a burden, is a wondrous gift. It will enable them, in the words of today’s Psalm, to walk blamelessly and do justice.
Why, then, in today’s Gospel, is Jesus so critical of the law-abiding Pharisees and scribes? Because they had become the fulfillment of a prophecy: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13).
Of those whom Mary called “my people” at La Salette, many did not even pay lip service to the demands of their faith. She told them, in tears, how much she had to plead with her Son on their behalf. She pleaded with them to observe the Law, not out of a spirit of legalism, but for their own sake. She did not want Jesus to abandon them to famine and death. She came that they might live.
Most people are willing to obey the laws of their country. And yet, when it comes to Christian morality and dogma, it is surprisingly easy to “disregard God’s commandment and cling to human tradition.” We forget the injunction, “You shall not add to what I command you (like the Pharisees) nor subtract from it (as we are inclined to do).”
The Israelites did not observe the Law perfectly. Neither have we. We often fall short of God’s plan for us. Relying on his mercy, we try again. This is essential to the message of reconciliation, the call to return to the spirit and practice of our Catholic faith.
St. James writes, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” Humility is essential in our relationship to the Lord’s will.
God knows what gives life. So does the Beautiful Lady.
Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.