22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 30th 2015.
Dt 4:1-2,6-8; James 1:17-18,21-22,27; Mk 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
Why obedience always matters
At a recent Mass for college students in Manila, I began my homily by exclaiming, “God is good…!” and the students responded in unison and with great energy and enthusiasm, “All the time!” I then exclaimed, “All the time…!” and they responded with the same energy as before, “God is good!” My next statement had a completely different reaction from the previous ones. I said, “So God is good all the time; what about His commandments? Are they good for us all the time?” They were reluctant to answer in the affirmative with enthusiasm as they did before. We easily attest to God’s constant goodness but we are less convicted that His commandments are equally good for us all the time.
In First Reading, Moses gives the Israelites two reasons to persevere in obeying God’s statutes and decrees. Firstly, they are to obey because God has been good to them all the time even in their frequent rebellions against Him during their journey. God, in His goodness, never abandoned them, but constantly drew closer to them, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon Him?” Secondly, they should obey always because God’s commandments are as good for them in their new and improved condition in the Promised Land as it was in their sojourn in the desert, “What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” The Israelites will enter into and hold on to the gift of the Promised Land as long as they continue to obey God’s commandments. “Observe them…that you may live and enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” It is definitely not their obedience that earned them the Promised Land but it is only through their obedience that they will enter into, possess, and enjoy the gift of the Promised Land.
In Second Reading, St. James teaches us that God does not change, “With the Father there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.” Just as God cannot change in Himself, neither does He change in His promises to us or in His words to us. Mere observance of His words cannot bring us salvation but we possess and enjoy the salvation that Christ has won for us by our obedience to His words, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” We deceive ourselves when we only listen to His words without acting on them, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” In the words of St. Paul, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.” Constant obedience to God in good works remains our loving response to God, “We are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should work in them.”(Eph 2:8-10)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus declares the worship of the Pharisees and scribes as vain because they obey God’ commandments as along as it does not contradict their human tradition, “You disregard God’s commandments but cling to human tradition.” Despite their exterior perfectionism in observing the law, it is through loving obedience that they will offer true worship by bringing their hearts closer to the heart of Jesus and dispose their hearts to receive the good things that God has promised and prepared for them. Evils that defile come from the hearts that are not acting on the truth of God’s laws with love but who approach the commandments conditionally, obeying them only when convenient, socially acceptable or beneficial for our earthly gains.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is necessary for us to enter into a personal relationship with the ever good God in and through Jesus Christ. We Catholics have been accused of not emphasizing much the necessity of developing an intimate relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. I believe we can lay greater emphasis on this personal relationship with Jesus Christ even as we live our sacramental life and moral lives. But it is also ironic to notice that side by side with this seeming emphasis on the primacy of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the rampant dismissal, disregard, or comfortable re-interpretation of God’s laws that we see in our times. Our world today manifests much more deviant forms of the list of evils from the heart that Jesus mentioned in today’s Gospel – evil thoughts, unchastity in all its forms, mind-boggling theft, heartless murder of the innocent and unborn, adultery and depraved sexual unions, unbridled greed, intense hatred of others, deceit, shameless licentiousness, envy, blasphemy and sacrilege, arrogance and folly.
Is our personal relationship with Christ focused exclusively on His goodness to us and dismissive of the goodness of His commandments to us? Without a firm and unwavering commitment to live by His commandments, we deceive ourselves about being in a personal relationship with God. God is always good to us and He shows this to us in constant action that climaxed with the gift of His Son Jesus to us on the Cross that we might have life. Likewise our personal relationship with Jesus Christ must be reflected in action, acts done out of loving obedience. Personal relationship with Jesus alone is not enough because, as a friend of mine once reminded me, “Even Judas had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and we know how that relationship ended.” Our constant loving obedience to His commandments is the basic and fundamental response we can make to His abiding goodness to us.
Indeed, God is good all the time whether we are good or not. He has brought us into a life-giving relationship with Him in this life with a promise of eternal glory in the life to come. His commandments too are good for us always, constantly shaping our hearts and disposing us to receive that which we do not have a claim to in the first place apart from His grace.
This unchanging divine goodness is shown to us in the sacrament of Reconciliation where our sins are absolved by the merits of Christ. It is our personal relationship with Him that moves us to seek His forgiveness with confidence and with resolution to fight sin without respite to our last breath. But above all, God’s constant goodness is offered to us in the Eucharist we celebrate as Christ makes Himself present to us under the forms of bread and wine irrespective of our fidelity or infidelity to Him. He has come to us “not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.” With His grace we can hope to obey His commandments always such that our obedience to His words will be unconditional. What will we gain by this obedience that never ceases? We will receive that which Christ has prepared for us and we will know for certainty that indeed God is good all the time!
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!