22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
|Original Image from Pixabay.|
This Sunday, the second reading will be from James 1:17-18,21-22,27, but go ahead and read the intervening verses - you’ll lose nothing by it. Also, check out the other readings - it’s Lectionary # 125, if you’re reading from a hard copy.
I’m glad the Church doesn’t ask of us a lot of ritual religious customs in our regular everyday comings and goings. I mean, as customs go, abstaining from meat on Fridays and fasting two days a year really is not that bad! Not when you consider all the religious customs the Jews were required to observe every single day.
They had ritual washings - just in case you came into contact with non-Jews during the day, particular ways that you were supposed to pray (men had to don a phylactery) - not to mention you were expected to tithe 10% of everything - down to the seasonings in your spice cabinet! Can you imagine giving 10% of your container of basil, cumin, or cinnamon to the church?
And meticulous observance of these laws is what was understood in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day as exemplary - keeping yourself clean. Ritually clean in what you came into contact with (or avoided contact with).
Now, there was a point to this obedience under the Old Testament law. It was “phase one” so to speak of learning to obey God. They were first trained to obey a written law with specific commandments. Another part of the reason for Jewish ritual purity was to get the chosen people ready to withstand the temptation to adjust their morality to suit the world - or themselves, for that matter.
“Phase two” (Christianity) is harder. The standard is higher, because having heard the word of God taught by the Son of God, more is expected. Obedience is harder because it’s not just a set of prohibitions and rituals - we’re expected to seek obedience. Seek the poor and defenseless to look after them.
James reminds us that ritual purity is not the same as what will be found to be pure in the eyes of God. “Religion that is pure and udefiled before God”, he says, “is to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Which is to say that we are to care for the defenseless and oppressed, and we are not to give in to the way the world modifies morality to suit its whims.
It would be easier for us to go with the flow of the culture or our own desires, just like it was easier for the Jews to become more like their pagan neighbors. It is recorded in the Old Testament, that the Jews often did go the way of their neighbors, and many Christians unfortunately do the same thing today.
What happened among the Jews didn’t happen all at once, it happened one person at a time, and it happens the same way among Christians today. We substitute our judgment, or that of some “expert” for the judgment of God, because it is easier or more convenient. Refusing to change our morality to suit our desires is hard, but it’s important that we avoid it, because it amounts to putting ourselves in the place of God.
We may not always understand the laws that God has given to us, but it is not our place to change the ones that we don’t understand. Our place is to trust and obey. Trust that God has given us these laws not to take away all our fun, but because he - like any good parent - knows what is good for his children and is trying to teach them to seek that Good, rather than any other.
Give us a greater appreciation for the law you’ve given to us in the natural law that you’ve written on our hearts and what you’ve given us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Help us to know that these are an expression of your love for us. Help us to respond to your love in kind, and show our love for you in our obedience.
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Just FYI - Beginning this week, the 2nd readings will be from the epistle of James. Take the time to read the whole thing sometime this month! Not an epistle for the faint of heart!