22 Sunday B

From the Connections:
Today’s Gospel returns to Mark’s story of the Christ event with a confrontation that Mark’s first Christian readers knew all too well.  A contentious debate raged in the early Church as to whether or not Christians should continue to observe the practices of Judaism.  Jesus challenges the scribes’ insistence that faithfulness to ceremonial washings and other rituals constitutes complete faithfulness to the will of God.  He scandalizes his hearers by proclaiming “nothing that enters a man from outside can make him impure; that which comes out of him, and only that, constitutes impurity.”  It is the good that one does motivated by the spirit of the heart that is important in the eyes of God, not how scrupulously one keeps the laws and rituals mandated by tradition.

Through the centuries of Judaism, the scribes had constructed a rigid maze of definitions, admonitions, principles and laws to explain the Pentateuch (summarized in Moses’ eloquent words to the nation of Israel in today’s first reading).  As a result, the ethics of religion were often buried under a mountain of rules and taboos.  Jesus’ teachings re-focus the canons of Israel on the original covenant based on the wisdom and discernment of the human heart.  Such a challenge widens the growing gulf between Jesus and the Jewish establishment.
Faith begins with encountering God in our hearts; our faith is expressed in the good that we do and the praise we offer in the depths of our hearts, not simply in words and rituals performed "outside" of ourselves.
The kind of human being we are begins in the values of the heart, the place where God dwells within — but the evil we are capable of, the hurt we inflict on others, the degrading of the world that God created also begins “within,” when God is displaced by selfishness, greed, anger, hatred.
In the hurts, indignities and injustices perpetrated against us, what is often worse than the act itself is what the act does do us as persons: we respond with suspicion, cynicism, self-absorption, anger, vengeance.  To be a disciple of Jesus is not to let those things “outside” us diminish what we are “inside” ourselves, not to let such anger or vengeance displace the things of God in our hearts but to let God’s presence transform the evil that we have encountered into compassion and forgiveness.  
With the change of seasons, you’ve probably been doing alot of shopping — especially clothes for school and work.
So did you buy the right things?
Will you be wearing the right suits in the right colors and the right styles?  Have you paid close attention to the labels?
Are you wearing the right shoes, the smartest footwear in the coolest colors?
What about your hair?  Is it styled the right way?  Will your cut make you fit in with your team, your company, your gang, your circle?
Have you been listening to the right music, reading the right books, seeing the right movies?  Can you articulate the right opinions?  Know how the political winds are blowing?  On board with the accepted positions on the issues?
Is your calendar set — the right parties to go to, the right meetings to attend, the right places to be seen?
Clothes, styles, labels, music, social rituals and beliefs are important to all of us.  They mark our identity.  Every group of human beings has a tendency to be exclusive; every group wants to know who is on the inside and who is on the outside.  So we adopt “identity markers” — visible practices of dress or vocabulary or behavior that serve to distinguish who is inside the group and who is outside.
And nobody wants to be on the outside.  We all want to be in, we all want to be a part of the scene, we all want to be on the right side.
So mark well.
The Pharisees in today’s Gospel cherish the “markers” that identify them as part of the Jewish community.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  But Jesus teaches that the markers that should identify us as the people of God are “diets” of justice and peace, the cleaning away of hatred and division, tables that are set with places for all, traditions that honor charity and forgiveness.  Our identity as disciples is centered in our hearts, in the spirit of humble gratitude and compassion that we lift up to the Father.  
[Adapted from “Pharisees Are Us” by John Ortberg, in Living by the Word, published by The Christian Century.]


A. Fr Jude Botelho:

In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts the people to heed the statutes and ordinances of God so that they might inherit the land promised by Yahweh. While advising them to follow the laws and commandments of God, at the same time he warns them against adding or taking away anything from what they have received from God. Today's reading reminds the people that they have to be faithful to the written Law and not add their own interpretations and customs to the Law. In our own experience, we know that often in interpreting the law we apply it as we think best rather than as God wants us to live. We can be observing the letter of the law while missing its spirit.

Little to drink

William Barclay, the Scottish theologian, tells the story about an old rabbi who was in a Roman prison. He was on minimal ration of food and water. It was just enough for him to survive. As time passed, the rabbi grew weaker and weaker. Finally, it was necessary to call a doctor. The old man's problem was diagnosed as dehydration. The doctor's report confused the prison officials. They couldn't understand how the rabbi could be dehydrated. Although his daily ration of water was minimal, it was adequate. The guards were told to watch the old man closely to see what he was doing with his water. It was then that the mystery was solved. The guards discovered that the rabbi was using almost all his water to perform religious ritual washings before he prayed and before he ate. As a result, he had little water left to drink.
Mark Link in 'Sunday Homilies'

In today's Gospel, we find the Pharisees attacking Jesus by finding fault with the behaviour of his disciples. They notice that the disciples were eating without washing their hands as the practice of the law demanded, and so they ask Jesus: "Why do your disciples not live according to the traditions of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" Around that time there arose on the part of many Jews the desire to imitate the ritual holiness of their priests. For example, according to the written law, ritual washing was required of all priests before they entered the temple sanctuary. Its purpose was to wash all uncleanliness so that they could worship God more worthily. Gradually the people began to imitate the priests and wash their hands before praying. In a similar way, the washing before meals evolved. By the time of Jesus the Jews observed these oral traditions just as minutely as they did the written laws of the Torah. Perhaps the idea behind all these observances was noble; it was to make religion permeate every action of daily life. But in the course of doing this, religion degenerated into an activity of performing rituals. Observance of these rituals was equated with pleasing God and they became a yardstick of measuring one's own holiness and a criterion of judging others as well. God was out of the picture and the observances became an end in themselves. Rightly, Isaiah said: "This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me."

Lip Service

A story is told of a Moslem who, while pursuing a man with an upraised knife to kill him, heard the muezzin's call to prayer from the minaret. He stopped, extended his prayer rug, said his prescribed prayers, and then continued his original pursuit after the man he wished to kill. He had said his prayers now he could go about his sordid business. Unfortunately, changing what has to be changed, the same could be observed of some Christians, who while pursuing their sinful activities, may stop to attend church services before getting back to their same old sinful pursuits.

Do we stand for God?

Centuries ago in one of the Egyptian monasteries, a man came and asked to be admitted. The abbot told him that the chief rule was obedience, and the man promised to be patient on all occasions, even under excessive provocation. It chanced that the abbot was holding a dried-up willow stick in his hands; he forthwith fixed the dead stick into the earth and told the newcomer to water it until, against all rules of nature, it should once again become green. Obediently the new monk walked two miles every day to the river Nile to bring a vessel of water on his shoulders and water the dry stick. A year passed by and he was still faithful to his task, though very weary. Another year and still he toiled on. Well into the third year he was still trudging to the river and back, still watering the stick, when suddenly it burst into life. -The green bush alive today is a living witness to the mighty virtues of obedience and faith.
F. H. Drinkwater in 'Quotes and Anecdotes'

The Wrongs of Rites

A disciple once boasted about the effectiveness of his prayers and pilgrimages. His Guru advised him to take a bitter gourd along with him on his pilgrimage to place at every altar, to dip into every holy river and to be blessed at every shrine. When the disciple returned, the Guru reverently conducted a liturgy with the bitter gourd, cut it into pieces, and distributed it as sacramental food. Tasting it he declared, "Isn’t it surprising that all the prayers, pujas and pilgrimages, have not reduced the bitterness of this gourd?" Many people spend much time discussing rectitude of rituals and reinforcement of rites. Isn't it time to stop fighting about rites and rituals and begin fighting for the rights of those orphans and widows mentioned in the Scripture?
Francis Gonsalves in 'Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds'

Their heart is not in it…

A man died recently and went to heaven. He was very happy up there, as he wandered about, exploring the place. One Sunday morning he bumped into Jesus (it could happen up there, just as sure as down here!). Jesus called him over to show him something. He opened a sort of trap door in the floor of heaven, so that the man could look through, and see even as far as the earth below. Eventually, Jesus got to focus his attention on a church, his own local church at home, where there was a full congregation at Mass. The man watched for a while, and then something began to puzzle him. He could see the priest moving his lips, and turning over the pages. He could see the choir holding their hymnals, and the organist thumping the keyboards. But he couldn't hear a sound. It was total silence. Thinking that the amplification system in heaven had broken down, he turned to Jesus for an explanation. Jesus looked at him in surprise. "Didn't anybody ever tell you? We have a rule here that if they don't do those things down there with their hearts, we don't hear them up here at all!"
Jack McArdle in 'And that’s the Gospel truth!'
B. From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1. Ritual   washing   using   drinking-water:   
William   Barclay   in The   Daily   Study Bible tells  the  story  of  an  old  Jewish  rabbi   in  the  Roman   prison  diagnosed  with  acute dehydration  which  would have  led  to his death.  The  prison  guards  insisted that  the  rabbi was  given   his  quota of  drinking  water.   So  the  prison  doctor  and   the  officer  in  charge instructed the guards to watch the rabbi  and  ascertain what he was doing with his ration  of water.  They were  shocked to find that  the rabbi  was using almost all his water for traditional ritual washing before prayer  and  meals.  Todays gospel tells us how  the  tradition-addicted Pharisees started questioning Jesus when  his disciples omitted the ritual washing of hands in public before a meal. 

2) Pursuit  of  enemy  not   hindered  by  prayer:  
Barclays  second  story  is  about  a  Muslim pursuing an  enemy to kill him. In the  midst of the  pursuit the  Azan, or public call to prayer, sounded.  Instantly  the  Muslim  got  off  his  horse,  unrolled  his  prayer  mat,  knelt  down and prayed the required prayers as fast as he could. Then he leaped back on his horse to pursue his  enemy in order  to  kill him.  Jesus  opposes  this  type  of  legalism  in the  Jewish  religion  in todays gospel. 

3)  "Put  your  hand  in  Jesus'  hand":    
For  30  years  Mother  Teresa  worked  in  the   slums of Calcutta, India. She worked among the most forsaken people on earth.  You and  I would recoil  from  most  of  the  people  that   she  touched every   day     the   dispossessed,  the downtrodden, the diseased, the desperate. And yet, everybody who met Mother Teresa remarked on her warm  smile. How, after  30 years of working  in conditions like that  did  she keep   a  warm   smile  on  her  face?  Well,  it's  interesting.  She  said  that   at   age   18  she left Yugoslavia to  become a  Christian  servant.  She  said,  "When  I  was  leaving  home,  my mother told  me  something beautiful  and  very strange. She said, 'You go  put  your  hand in Jesus hand and  walk along with him.'" And  was the secret of Mother Teresa's life ever after. (Rev. King Duncan). Most  of us here  have  good jobs. And  we  live in nice homes, and  we have  easy  situations.  But we  don't have  the  warm  smile  on  our  faces  that  this  little  nun, working  in the most desperate situation imaginable, had  on her face. What's the difference? It may  be that  we've never put our hand in Jesus hand. It may  be that  we have  Him only on our lips.
C. From

 1)    Lip Service
 According to the story, Queen Victoria was once at a diplomatic reception in London. The guest of honor was an African chieftain. All went well during the meal until, at the end, finger bowls were served. The guest of honor had never seen a British finger bowl, and no one had thought to brief him beforehand about its purpose. So he took the finger bowl in his two hands, lifted it to his mouth, and drank its contents--down to the very last drop!
For an instant there was breathless silence among the British upper crust and then they began to whisper to one another.

All that stopped in the next instant as the Queen, Victoria, silently took her finger bowl in her two hands, lifted it, and drank its contents! A moment later 500 surprised British ladies and gentlemen simultaneously drank the contents of their own fingerbowls.

It was "against the rules" to drink from a fingerbowl, but on that particular evening Victoria changed the rules---because she was, after all, the Queen. It is "against the rules" not to wash your hands before you eat and on that the Pharisees called the hand of the disciples who follow Jesus. But Jesus recognizes their hypocrisy and he quotes from Isaiah, "These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me."

Brett Blair, Thanks to Winfield Casey Jones for ths story

2)    How many of you had "night lights" as a kid?
Can you remember your "night light?" Do any of you still have your "night light?"

What is it about the night that cuts us all down to size? Whatever you felt in the day--loneliness, lostness, despair-is magnified in the night. Thank God for "night lights" -those calming, gleaming points of brightness in darkened rooms that helped muzzle monsters and banish the bodysnatchers.

All you kids present-I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Adults still use "night lights." Only we rationalize them as guidance systems to the bathroom, or emergency lighting systems. Basically though, we are all still afraid of the dark.

Fear of the dark isn't just some childish weakness. It is a genetically ingrained reaction, programmed into our earliest ancestors who struggled to stay alive when the nocturnal predators came out to hunt. Children might fear imaginary monsters, but there are enough real life things that go bump in the night to encourage us to keep a dark-defying light on throughout the wee, small hours...

3)    Melting Mountains of Ice 

William Lloyd Garrison was the greatest abolitionist this country has ever known. He was a publisher of a newspaper called the Liberator, an antislavery publication. Garrison was an angry man, angry with indignation caused by the unbelievably inhumane treatment many of the slaves experienced. He hated slavery with everything that was in him. One day one of his best friends, Samuel May, tried to calm him down. He said to Garrison, "Oh, my friend, try to moderate your indignation and keep more cool. Why, you are all on fire." Garrison replied, "Brother May, I have need to be all on fire, for I have mountains of ice around me to melt." Well, the only way any of us can melt mountains of ice is to be on fire.

The only way Christ can use any of us is when we are driven by a great passion, when we feel or hear his voice within our heart showing us a great cause that needs to be championed. Nothing is accomplished in this world by people who have no passion. That's one reason we need God in our hearts as well as on our lips.

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
4)    A Person of Good Heart or Excellent Habits

Rev. David Chadwell posed a rather interesting question: Which would you prefer for a next-door neighbor: a person of excellent habits or a person with a good heart? Which would you prefer for a good friend: a person of excellent habits, or a person with a good heart? Which would you prefer for a husband or a wife: a person of excellent habits, or a person with a good heart? Which would you prefer for a child: a child with excellent habits, or a child with a good heart?  

It is wonderful to have a neighbor who conscientiously cares for his property while respecting your property. It is wonderful to have a friend who always treats you with consideration. It is wonderful to be married to a husband who always is thoughtful and courteous, or to a wife who always is gracious in her comments and deeds. It is wonderful to have a son or daughter who shows respect and uses good manners.

As wonderful as those situations are, none of them compare to having a neighbor, a friend, a husband, a wife, a son, or a daughter with a good heart.

When you discuss good behavior, you are discussing the quality of a person's self-control. When you discuss a good heart, you are discussing the quality of the person.

This is the focus of today's Scripture...
5)    Seeing Only the Smoke, Never the Fire

 In Luke 7:32, Jesus observed that this generation is like school children who pipe and their friends won't dance, who wail and their chums won't cry. "There is no pleasing you!" We simply find something wrong with everything.

John Wesley pointed out that every gift God gives man is quickly sullied by human hands. He said every revival comes with defects. So he'd pray, "Lord, send revival without the defects." But then he told the Lord, "If you won't do it, then send the revival with the defects."

Pharisees only see the smoke, never the fire. They complain about defects, never seeing the revival. Negative, critical persons, they are judgmental.  

Stephen M. Crotts, Sermons for Sundays after Pentecost, CSS Publishing

 6)    Tradition Is a Powerful Thing 

Years ago Harry Emerson Fosdick told about a church in Denmark where the worshipers bowed regularly before a certain spot on the wall. They had been doing that for three centuries -- bowing at that one spot in the sanctuary. Nobody could remember why. One day in renovating the church, they removed some of the whitewash on the walls. At the exact spot where the people bowed they found the image of the Madonna under the whitewash. People had become so accustomed to bowing before that image that even after it was covered up for three centuries, people still bowed.

Tradition is a powerful thing. The Pharisees had learned to substitute tradition, custom, habit for the presence of the living God. Traditionalism rears its head in many ways, in many times and in many places.  

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,

7)    Fault-Finding 

Shakespeare said, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet." Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? I'm sure it would. You see, the truth is that the thing is what it is, not what someone calls it. Names are assigned to us, based on our outward circumstances by ourselves and other people. "Sinner, Failure, Stupid, Dummy, Unclean" all are names which label us. But what we are called, either by others or by ourselves does not determine who we are. It might speak of those external circumstances, but it might be wholly inaccurate. You see, a failure is not someone who fails. In reality, the people who fail the most are the ones who succeed. You only get to success by taking risks and risk-taking brings many failures along the way. A failure is someone who simply doesn't try. No, names do not determine who you are. You are who you are on the inside.

So, the first important lesson is that we must cultivate the inner person.
The inner person is the person who counts. The apostle Paul desired that we
be strengthened in the inner man.

It boils down to relationship. We are only as strong as our personal relationship with Christ. 

J. David Hoke, The Inside Story, Mark 7:14-23.

 8)    The Shoeshine Boy

A certain downtown businessman became fond of the little boy who shined his shoes every day. He did such a good job that one day the businessman asked him, "Son, how come you are so conscientious about your work?" The boy felt complimented. He looked up to the man, and said, "Mister, I'm a Christian and I try to shine every pair of shoes as if Jesus Christ were wearing them."

The businessman saw something genuine in the shoeshine boy. Soon after that he began reading his Bible. When he decided to be a Christian himself, he credited his decision to the little boy who shined every pair of shoes "as if Jesus Christ were wearing them." That's a blessing. 

Charles R. Leary, Mission Ready!, CSS Publishing Company.
9)    Which Flowers Are Real? 

The queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon, and one day she put him to the test. She brought artificial flowers so perfectly formed that no human eye could detect them from real flowers. She put them in a vase on Solomon's table, in his throne room next to his flowers. As he came in, the queen of Sheba is reported to have said, "Solomon, you are the wisest man in the world. Tell me without touching these flowers, which are real and which are artificial." It is said that Solomon studied the flowers for a long time and spoke nothing, until finally he said, "Open the windows and let the bees come in."

There are ways to tell the artificial from the real-let the bees come in; they will know where the real is. If we live with the authentic Jesus long enough, we will recognize the artificial when we see it.  

Brooks Ramsey, When Religion Becomes Real  

10) Amazing  family  tradition:  

 Isaac  Ole  had   heard  from  his  grandma stories of an  amazing family tradition in his family.  It seems that  his father,  grandfather and great-grandfather had  all been able  to walk  on water on their 21st birthday.  On that  day, they'd walk  across the  lake  to the  boat club for their first legal  drink.  So when  Isaacs 21st birthday came around, he and  his pal  Sven took  a boat out to the middle of the lake.  Ole stepped  out  of  the  boat and  nearly  drowned!   Sven  just  managed to  pull  him  to  safety. Furious and  confused, Ole went  to see his grandmother.  "Grandma," he asked," it's my 21st birthday, so why  can't I walk  across the lake  like my father,  his father,  and  his father  before him?"  Granny  looked into Ole's eyes with a broad smile and  said, "Because your father, grandfather and  great-grandfather were born in January  when  the lake was frozen and  you were born in hot July!"

11) The  Jewish  tradition:  

Late in the evening, the young Jew knocked at the door  and  asked as an elderly  man  opened the door.  "Sir, what time is it?"  The old Jew just stared at him and did  not  answer.  Sir, forgive  me  for disturbing you at  this time, said the  young Jew, “but I really want to know  what time it is.  I have  to find a place to sleep.  The old Jew said, Son, the inn on the next street is the only one in this small city.  I don't know  you, so you must be a stranger.   If  I answer  you  now,  according  to  our  Jewish tradition, I  must  invite  you  to  my home.   You're  handsome  and  I  have  a  beautiful  daughter.   You will both  fall  in love  and you'll  want to  get  married.   And  tell  me,  why  would  I  want a  son-in-law  who  can't even afford a watch?