The second reading today said “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.”
In today’s Gospel, who were the “doers” of the Word that they had received? On the surface it would seem likethe Pharisees were the “doers”, because they were the ones doing the ritual cleansing of their hands and being attentive to the requirements of what was handed on by their ancestors. After all, the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy — scripture and the Word of God for us as much as it was for them — tells us to “hear the statutes and decrees which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you” and to “observe them carefully.” So right after we are told that it seems a little odd that Jesus would be so critical of the Pharisees’s concern for carefully observing ritual actions. He even calls them hypocrites, an accusation as harsh and biting as it would be today. Why? How are the ones doing what is prescribed the hypocrites?
Because they really weren’t observing the Law; they were misguided both in action and in intention. The Law of Moses, like all laws, needed to be interpreted by its hearers. In Deuteronomy, it was only priests needed to wash their hands before a sacrificial meal, but over time commentators on that law extending the washing of hands to a practice for all Jews before every meal. The Pharisees in this accusation were not concerned about observing the Law itself or even more importantly observing the intention and heart behind the Law, but instead were focused on a human extension. So knowing that, and recalling that the scripture of the first reading also said “you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it”, and having heard Jesus quote Isaiah that “in vain [does this people] worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts”… you can understand the frustration Jesus has when the Pharisees make their remark about his disciples. Jesus is not upset that the Pharisees care about following rules, he’s upset that they care so much about the rules on top of rules instead of looking to the roots of what the rules intended.
On our part, we must be “doers of the word and not hearers only.” We have heard the Law of Moses brought to fulfillment in the Person of Christ; as his disciples we are not freed to be lawless, but rather freed to bind ourselves the deeper foundations from which the Law was created. The rule of our law is not ritual purity as a symbol, but actual purity in our hearts, measured by the things which come forth from them.
I’m sure you know all sorts of rules and laws that our faith has established as the centuries came and went, but I ask you today to examine whether you know the roots of those things and the law of Christ from which they come. I encourage you to be doers of this faith, and not just hearers. It is true that as Catholics we are required to come to mass each Sunday, but I hope you know that it is because we are not individuals but the Body of Christ, joined together, unified in thanksgiving for what he has done. It is true that we are required to fast from food and drink for an hour before receiving communion, but I hope you know that we do that so that our physical bodies can be united with our spirits in yearning to receive this food from heaven. It is true that the Church outlines a morality of human sexuality, but I hope you find in that the beauty of giving oneself to another and the respect and humbleness that we must have to receive such a gif from the Creator as to take part with Him in bringing about life. As you walk in this faith that we share, do not merely hear the Word and the prudent guiding of our Church, but be doers in your heart, that from your heart only the love of Christ may pour forth.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.