Moses said to the people: "Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it. Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, 'This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.' 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? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?"
1) Whoever walks blamelessly and does justice;
who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue. (Refrain)
2) One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. Who harms not his fellow man, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
by whom the reprobate is despised, while he honors those who fear the Lord. (Refrain)
3) One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. Who lends not his money at usury and accepts no bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things shall never be disturbed. (Refrain)
Dearest brothers and sisters: All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. 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, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. -- For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. - So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, "Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?" He responded, "Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition." He summoned the crowd again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. "From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile."
Reprinted with permission from ICEL. From Lectionary for Mass. Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved.
Dynamic Preaching, Seven Worlds Corporation, 310 Simmons Road, Knoxville, Tn. 37922.
Days of the Lord, Volume 5, pp. 189-199. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Mn., 1993.
The Gospel of Mark, by William Barclay. Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 1975.
The Cultural World of Jesus, by John J. Pilch, pp. 130-132. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Mn. 1996.
The Word Encountered, by John F. Kavanaugh, pp. 105-106. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 1996.
Mark, by Wilfrid Harrington, pp. 95-102. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Mn. 1979.
Catechism: #1949 -1986 (The Moral Law, the Old Law and the New Law). United States Catholic Conference, Washington, D.C.: 1994.
All Good Gifts, by Stephen Schwartz (from Godspell)
What our Lord was speaking about in the gospel was the New Law of the Gospel. The New Law is the grace of the Holy Spirit given to Christian believers through faith in Christ. It principally works through charity (1966). Just as the book of Deuteronomy explained and completed the Law of God given on Mount Sinai, so the Law of the Gospel "fulfills", refines, surpasses and leads the Old Law to its perfection (1967).
In our second reading, James points out that caring for the poor and keeping ourselves as free from sin as possible are the best worship we can offer to God. To him real worship does not lie in elaborate vestments, magnificent music or a carefully choreographed service; it lay in the practical service of one another and in the purity of one's own personal life. In fact, James is only reiterating what the prophets had condemned long ago. Among others, it was Micah's complaint that all ritual sacrifices were useless, if a person did not do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before God (Mic.6:6-8). Throughout history, people have tried to make ritual and liturgy a substitute for sacrifice and service. But the truth is that worship is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The most splendid worship is empty and useless unless it sends us out into the world to love one another in true service.
One of the other prophets who condemned the Israelites for their lack of understanding of the spirit of the law was Isaiah, and it is Isaiah whom our Lord quotes in the gospel in speaking to the Jews. In essence, he is telling the Jews, and us too, that what is important is what is inside of a person. By their deeds, you will know them.
Jesus insisted that the greatest ritual service of all is the service of human need. Just as James pointed out, Christian service has its beginning in ritual worship, but finds its fulfillment only in the service of human need. Human need takes precedence over any other, which the Pharisees neglected to see. We will not be judged by the number of church services that we have attended, or by the number of chapters of the Bible that we have read, or even by the number of the hours that we have spent in prayer, but by the number of people whom we have helped, when their need came crying to us. Consider the following story. The author writes:
- One unseasonably snowy April in the mid-Giuliani era, my teenage daughter, Amanda, and I had the great fortune to take a whirlwind trip to New York City to see a Broadway play during her spring break from school. This was not just a trip, but a “storming” of the Big Apple, with all expenses paid by my employer for recognition of a successful project, complete with first-class airfare, two seats to Phantom of the Opera, dinner at Tavern on the Green, and two nights at the Plaza Hotel. Someone should have notified the unsuspecting storekeepers in Manhattan that we were converging upon their fair city to perform some serious power shopping!
Having never been to New York, we were warned by family and friends to keep purses hidden, not look anyone directly in the eye, and act as though we were hardened Brooklynites so as not to give away our true identities as two unsuspecting ladies from the Heart of America, the consummate “out-of-towners”. Our strategy was to keep only minimal pocket change and cab fare handy and our purses inside our coats as we kept stride with veteran New Yorkers.
The Plaza Hotel was a contrast in extremes. Outside, the doormen greeted us at the taxi door, gesturing a welcome to the grandest hotel off Central Park. The streets were blanketed with snow and snow-white blankets from some charity covered the homeless lying atop the grates to get a bit of warmth. We nearly had to hop over them to navigate the sidewalks. What a silent but resounding statement it made about wealth and poverty.
Amanda was aghast as I hurried her up the canopied stairs, into the mahogany and crystal halls of our evening sanctuary from reality.
The next morning, after a hearty and pricey breakfast (I’d never paid $35 a plate for French toast before!), we bundled up with purses fastened securely under our coats and pockets filled with assorted one-dollar bills and coins for the homeless panhandling on what seemed to be every street corner. Off we headed on our parade down Fifth Avenue.
The pocket change and single bills were the result of hard negotiating on Amanda’s part. She was determined that we would not pass even one street person without tendering some benevolence upon those who did not have the tremendous fortune of staying in such wonderful surroundings. She wore me down with my own reminders to her over the years that “there but for the grace of God” go any of us on any given day. My years of collecting Charles Dicken's books and dragging my kids to our local repertory theater’s A Christmas Carol every year had apparently impacted her in ways that were coming back to me in aces. Orphaned birds, lost dogs, “Charlie Brown’ Christmas trees, and misfit toys were staples in our home. If you didn’t have anywhere to go at Thanksgiving, you came to our house. My husband and I tried to raise our family to be civic-minded, law abiding and generous. It apparently worked.
What occurred next is truly unexplainable, but I swear that the events I’m about to share did happen. We started down the street and quickly picked up the stride that swept “fellow New Yorkers” down the street in a wave of humanity that was thirty people deep. The phrase “huddled masses” had new meaning as we crowded among them at traffic lights, laughing, “We’re walkin’ here!” as we stood in the cold.
Amanda clinked coins into every box she saw outside the cardboard huts shoved up against the professional buildings and glitzy storefronts. Her pockets emptied somewhere in the vicinity of Macy’s. As we weaved our way in and out of stores, she hit me up for money to give, dollar by dollar, to every grate-sitter we passed. I reluctantly handed her my last single and scolded, “That’s it. You’re done. No more. My pockets are empty.”
As we approached another crowded corner, we passed a cardboard shelter with a sign that read, “Homeless and have AIDS”. A hooded figure sat motionless in the box with a blanket draped from his head down his shoulders. He never looked up. As we walked past him toward the traffic light, Amanda began to cry. I reminded her that I was out of cash and shoved my hands in my pockets in frustration. I felt the crunch of paper in my right pocket. As we waited for the world’s longest light to change, I pulled out a five-dollar bill. Five dollars! No way! I looked at the money and then at my daughter’s tears. “Aw, geez, here.”
She beamed as she grabbed the money from my hand and started to disappear back into the crowd. I hollered, “Wait!” terrified that she’d vanish into the thin, cold air that was now cutting through my very soul.
I turned and ran toward her and the figure in the box. I watched to my amazement as he lifted his head to her in a gesture of thanks as she set the money in the box by his side. His face, almost illuminated, had nearly transparent skin and he had the palest of blue eyes. I think he may have had blond hair at the edge of the hood he wore, but I can’t tell you for sure. I was just mesmerized by those eyes. He seemed to look right through me and the chill that I’d felt seconds earlier evaporated from the warmth of his expression. I felt as though I was in the presence of someone not of this world. As I wondered how I would ever explain this to anyone, a crazy thought ran through my mind. “I found Jesus... and he’s in a cardboard box on a street in Manhattan.”
I took hold of Amanda’s hand and we turned to make our way back to the corner. We walked across the street and looked back once again toward the stranger. There was no one there. No box. No sign. No silent figure.
Amanda and I just looked at each other. Neither of us spoke for several blocks. Finally, we said in unison, “Did you see Him?”
Soon we found ourselves climbing the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “Let’s go light candles, Momma,” Amanda said. “It’s Good Friday.”
So it was, and so we did. (1)
We don’t normally run into penniless beggars every day of our lives, but we do run into people in need every day. Perhaps it’s just a smile of greeting to a neighbor or a kind word to a co-worker. Whatever it is, we have an appointment to meet with our Maker after our journey of life is completed to determine if we will inherit the kingdom he has created for us from the beginning of time. If we have loved God during our lives, during the time he has so graciously given us, and demonstrated that love through our love for one another, then he has promised us that we will truly inherit that kingdom at our appointed time. Then we will surely hear him say the words we long to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master.”
1. Christ in a Stranger's Guise by Marla Bernard. From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living the Catholic Faith by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and LeAnn Thieman, pp. 43-46. Copyright 2008 by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, Cos Cob, CT.)
And They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love
- George was sitting at a stop light one morning. The woman in the car in front of him was going through some papers on the seat of her car and didn't realize that the light was green until it had turned to red again. George was beside himself. With the windows still up, he began screaming epithets and beating on the steering wheel. His expressions of distress were interrupted by a policeman, gun drawn, tapping on his window. Against his protestations of, "You can't arrest me for hollering in my car," the policeman ordered him into the back seat of the police car. After what seemed like an eternity, and after checking over his car from top to bottom, the arresting officer advised him he was free to go. He said, "I knew you couldn't arrest me for what I was yelling in my own car. You haven't heard the last of this." The officer replied, "I didn't arrest you for shouting in your car. I was directly behind you at the light. I saw you screaming and beating your steering wheel, and I said to myself, 'What a jerk. Then I noticed the cross hanging from your rear view mirror, the fish on the trunk lid, and the "My boss is a Jewish Carpenter," and the "Jesus is Coming Soon" bumper stickers. I was going to arrest you for stealing a car from a Christian."
All of our readings today have a lot to do with being a good Christian or, for the Jews, following the law. Our first reading is from the book of Deuteronomy, which is the fifth and last book of the "Pentateuch", which also include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. These five books enjoy particular prestige among the Jews as the books which most specifically set forth God's law, or Torah, the concrete expression of God's will for them. Within the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy (which means "second law") consists of the last discourses of Moses before his death. It contains a partial repetition, further explanation and completion of the law proclaimed by God on Mount Sinai in earlier books. In this book, Moses exhorts, corrects and threatens his people, appealing to their past glory, their historic mission and the promise of future triumph. His aim is to reinforce among the Israelites the Lord's claim to their obedience, loyalty and love. Thus, it sets forth to the Israelites the commands which they must follow in order to inherit the land which God has promised to them.
Today's second reading is taken from the letter of James in which he exhorts Christian believers, much as Moses exhorted the Israelites before him, to live a life full of good works. Just hearing the word and believing it are not enough. He goes on to say that "faith without works is as dead as a body without breath" (2:26). In this reading, James compares the faithful believer to the first fruits of creation. In the ancient world, it was the law that the first fruits of the harvest were offered back to God, because they belonged to him. So when someone is reborn by the true word of the gospel, that person becomes the property of God.
Then James tells us to "humbly welcome the word which has taken root in you". The Greek word prautes, which is here translated as "humbly", really has no precise English equivalent. Basically, it is a one-word summary of the characteristics of a "teachable spirit". Such a spirit is docile and pliable, humble enough to learn; it is one which can face the truth, even when that truth is difficult to accept. Prautes describes the perfect conquest and control of everything in our human nature which would be a hindrance to seeing, learning and obeying the truth. In last week's gospel from John, we heard how some of the disciples turned away from Jesus when he broke the news to them that they had to eat his body and drink his blood in order to gain eternal life. They certainly did not have prautes, a teachable spirit.
Finally in this reading, James points out that caring for the poor and keeping ourselves as free from sin as possible are the best worship we can offer to God. To him real worship does not lie in elaborate vestments, magnificent music or a carefully choreographed service; it lay in the practical service of one another and in the purity of one's own personal life. In fact, James is only reiterating what the prophets had condemned long ago. Among others, it was Micah's complaint that all ritual sacrifices were useless, if a person did not do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before God (Mic.6:6-8). Throughout history, people have tried to make ritual and liturgy a substitute for sacrifice and service. But the truth is that worship is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The most splendid worship is empty and useless unless it sends us out into the world to love one another in true service. (1)
One of the other prophets who condemned the Israelites for their lack of understanding of the spirit of the law was Isaiah, and it is Isaiah whom our Lord quotes in the gospel in speaking to the Jews. In essence, he is telling the Jews, and us too, that what is important is what is inside of a person. By their deeds, you will know them. I am reminded of the chorus of a song which has been around liturgical music circles for more than twenty years (and not many have survived that long): "And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they'll know we are Christians by our love."
Jesus insisted that the greatest ritual service of all is the service of human need. Just as James pointed out in the second reading, Christian service has its beginning in ritual worship, but finds its fulfillment only in the service of human need. Human need takes precedence over any other, which the Pharisees neglected to see. We will not be judged by the number of church services that we have attended, or by the number of chapters of the Bible that we have read, or even by the number of the hours that we have spent in prayer, but by the number of people whom we have helped, when their need came crying to us.
- According to a legend once upon a time, a king had no son. The king sent out his couriers to post notices in all the towns of his realm that every young man should apply for an interview with the king so that he could be considered as a possible successor to the throne. However, all candidates had to meet two qualifications: they had to love God and love their neighbor. Every candidate had to notify the king of his interest, so that the king could then schedule an interview for him. There was one young man who believed that he could meet those qualifications, but he was so poor that he did not have proper clothes to wear before the king nor did he have funds to buy provisions for the long journey to the castle.
As the date of his appointment neared, the young man was able to beg and borrow enough money to buy some clothes appropriate for the interview and enough provisions for the journey. He set out confidently on his journey and had almost reached the castle when he came upon a poor beggar by the side of the road. He sat there cold and trembling, clad only in tattered rags. He stretched out his arms and said to the young man "I'm cold and hungry. Can you help me, please?"
The young man was so moved by this beggar's need that he immediately took off his new clothes and put on the tattered rags of the beggar. Without a second thought, he gave the beggar all of his provisions as well. And so he completed his journey attired in a beggar's rags and without any provisions for the journey back home.
Upon his arrival at the castle, an attendant showed him to a room where he could clean himself up a bit before his interview. Then he was led into the king's presence. He entered with his head bowed, out of proper respect for the king. When he finally raised his eyes, he gasped in astonishment because he recognized the king as the beggar by the roadside.
"Why did you do this to me?", he asked incredulously.
"I had to find out if you genuinely loved God and your neighbor," the king said. "I knew if I came to you as king, that you would have been impressed by my royal robes and crown. But I would never have known what was truly in your heart. So I came to you as a beggar with no claims on you except the love in your heart, and I discovered that you sincerely love God and your neighbor. You will indeed inherit my kingdom." (2)
We may not be running into beggars in need on the street every day. But we do encounter people in need every day of our lives. And perhaps all they may need to help them through the day is just a smile of greeting or a kind word. Whatever it is, like the young man in our story, our King has an appointment to meet with each of us after our journey of life is completed to determine if we will inherit the kingdom he has created for us from the beginning of time. If we have loved God during our lives, during the time he has so graciously given us, and demonstrated that love through our love for one another, then he has promised us that we will truly inherit that kingdom at our appointed time. Then we will surely hear him say the words that we would long to hear: "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master."
1. The Epistle of James, by William Barclay. Westminster John Knox Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 1975.
2. From More Sower's Seeds, Second Planting by Brian Cavanaugh, T.O.R., pp. 6-8. Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey, 1992.
(Copyright 2012 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
September 5, 2021
Lord Jesus, you have taught us to observe your commandments. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you have taught us to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you have taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: All good gifts and every benefit we receive comes from above. In confidence, we bring our prayers and petitions to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is: Lord, hear our prayer.
That the leaders of the Church will offer God a worship that flows from their hearts as well as from their lips, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders the nations of the world may care for the needs of their people, we pray to the Lord.
That our children will use the upcoming school year to grow in wisdom and knowledge, we pray to the Lord.
That the Word of God will take root in our hearts and make us doers and not just hearers, we pray to the Lord.
That the Lord will bless us with a bountiful harvest, that we may care for all those who hunger, we pray to the Lord.
That all of our brothers and sisters will be treated as our equals in the sight of God regardless of their race, color, nationality or religion, we pray to the Lord.
That all of those who have contracted the Corona virus will be healed, that those who have died will be welcomed into the loving arms of their Savior who suffered for them and that their grieving families will find strength in their faith, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Loving Father, you sent your Son to teach us how to live. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to put his words into action in our daily lives. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.