Homily for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary time year B 2012
Father’s day (Australia)
As I reflect on the gospel today, a memory came to mind about a certain seminarian who was put in charge of the chapel and sacristy in a certain seminary. This seminarian (an ex-seminarian now, for he left the seminary later), was really meticulous in doing things. He wanted things to be done according to his certain standard of perfection, precision and accuracy. It really annoyed me to be honest, because it seemed like for him, there would be no room for error or imperfection. One particular situation that really got me was when he told me to put the candle stands at a certain and exact distance away from the foot of the altar, even describing to me the exact distance in centimetres or inches. I was really fed up with him, to be honest, so I told him right then: ‘You know what, God doesn’t really care how far away should this candle stand be from the altar. All he cares for is what is in our hearts every time we come to this chapel.’ The seminarian fell silent. He couldn’t believe that I would stand up against him. And I added: ‘If you really want to have it done that way, you’d better do it yourself.’ And I left the chapel. From then on he became so careful in asking a favour from me, until he left the seminary.
Friends I’m telling you this because sometimes in our lives we really behave as a follower-of-the-law-to- the- letter people. And it is not uncommon that we also behave this way in our dealings with our personal God, in our act of worship, and in our expressions of the faith. Certainly, following the law is important, but this is only half of the task. We are also called to understand the deeper meaning of it to finish the whole task.
God gave us the ten commandments as written in the Book of Exodus and Deuteronomy. And because they are made and given by God himself they are good. Hence, Moses was really keen and firm in following it and to encourage his listeners to do the same. There is however a deeper meaning of the law given to Moses and that is: it serves as evidence of the closeness of God in the lives of the people. They are witnesses to the reality of the presence of a personal God working and walking with them. Because of this realization, the author of the Book of Deuteronomy would exclaim: ‘What great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God that has laws and customs to match this whole that I put before you today?’, as we have heard in our first Reading today.
But then again, sometimes we are caught up with a belief that God would be more pleased and would reward us with great things if we do things perfectly, precisely and accurately as it is written in the instruction manual. Sometimes we tend to project God in our own image of human perfection that would look at the externals of things first before going deeper into what really is the essence or the real meaning of things. Sometimes we can forget that God sees what’s in our hearts already even before us expressing it out in our behaviours, in our actions and in our dealings with others. More interestingly, we also sometimes express this follow-to-the-letter- attitude in our worship, as we come to Mass.
This is the kind of attitude that made Jesus stood up against the Pharisees and the scribes as we have heard in our gospel today. Mark is telling us that this group of people in the Jewish circle are so particular in the external ritual of cleansing before eating. So when they saw the disciples of Jesus not doing the right thing that is written in the law, they criticized them. They told him that his disciples are not respecting the tradition. So Jesus had to tell them right on their face: ‘It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah prophesied. This people honours me only with lip-service…while their hearts are far from me.
Jesus doesn’t like hypocrites. So he is calling us now to get to the heart of things as God designed them to be otherwise we would just play hypocrites before him if we wouldn’t know who we really are and what God plans for us. He is inviting us to check if what we are showing in our actions are really motivated and empowered by our love of God and our neighbour. He is telling us to examine ourselves if what we are doing, may it be an act of charity or of service to one another, is really done free from selfish motives. He is reminding us to have a reality check if our coming to Church to give praise and thanks to God for is really done in love and freewill rather than just fulfilling a religious obligation.
God needs our hearts, a heart that beats for him and for others. If we don’t have this kind of heart yet, it is never too late. If we are this loving person already let’s continue to be loving and generous because this is the reason why we are created. We are created by the God of love, in and through love in order for us to love in return. And we can become who we really are as God calls us to be if we live in love. St James would urge us to express and live out this love in our Second Reading today. He tells us: ‘You must do what the word tells you and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves. Pure unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.’
Fathers, father figures, and fathers-to –be who are here today, thank you for your love of your wife, sons, and daughters. And thank you not only for doing what is expected of you but also for going out of your comfort zones by living in love with the people close to you. Thank you dads, for your love, care, sacrifices and continuing support for us your sons and daughters. Thank you to be a concrete witness of God the Father’s love for all of us.
So as we continue our celebration today, let’s pray for help from the Holy Spirit for three things: to help us see beyond the letter of the law by understanding that it is for the betterment of personal relationship between people, and between us and God; to make us more loving, more generous and more understanding toward one another; and for all fathers whose day we observe today, that they may continue to be a reflection of God’s love for us. Amen.