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Jesus Wants No ”Modernization”, He Wants Your Sanctification! (22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 2021-08-29)

Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ

Homily for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

2021-08-29

Year B: Deut. 4:1-2, 6-8; Ps 27; James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)

 

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees was about holiness; to be set apart for God: What characterizes it, how is it obtained? This conflict remains relevant, because it ultimately is about salvation.

The Pharisees were a popular religious party in First century Judaism. They wanted to safeguard the collectiveholiness of the Jewish people in its covenant with God, only preserved if peoples’ actions met certain formal criteria that the scribes had interpreted from the ritual prescripts in the Law of Moses.

Jesus’s attitude can only be understood in light of his claims to embody the Law and to be the Lawmaker. Jesus is, at least in our modern times, often misunderstood as being opposed to rules, almost like a religious anarchist or a premature flower power guru. Such a conception is however very superficial. In reality, Jesus contrariwisesharpens moral commandments, and raises the bar for behaviours to express God’s true will. E.g. he bans divorce, introduced in Israel’s law because humans wanted God to confirm their wishes. I.e. what today is called “modernization” of the faith.

But Jesus does not want any “modernization”. Instead, he wants to reveal God’s timeless intentions with the commandments, and thus correct us where we, of human fragility, err in understanding. Jesus does not take us “back to basics”, rather forward into the fundament he fully reveals! And he does so by giving himself to us as both a yardstick and a concrete help, ever present through his and the Father’s Spirit in the Church he founds, binds himself to, and authorizes to carry his presence in her immutable teachings and seven sacraments. Therethrough directing and nourishing us as the “light … help … and strength of my life”, as sung in today’s responsorial psalm.

The aim of Israel’s collective holiness in the Old Testament was to be a people who lived a constant testimony about the One and true God, and through whom God, when time was right, could enter the world and reach all nations. In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, we heard God through Moses announce his plan for Israel and the role of his commandments, i.e. the Mosaic Law. This Law consisted from the beginning by three parts: the moral law, the ritual law – e.g. rules concerning the sabbath, circumcision, purity, food, religious festivals and temple sacrifice – and the law regulating life and relations in society.

When God becomes man and finalizes and fulfils the Old Covenant, two of the three parts of the Law are exceeded as their purpose is achieved: The social rules can now be replaced by secular, civil and criminal legislation, as faith in Israel’s God no longer needs the building of a nation. The same applies to the ritual law. Christ reveals himself to be the final sacrifice, the eternal priest, the living temple and the true sabbath. With Jesus’s death and resurrection, the faith in Israel’s God, the right worship and reconciliation will now be carried by, and happen in, the universal Church, the New Israel.

The third part of the Mosaic Law, the moral law, the manual for being human as it were, however remains, as it refers to the natural order in creation. What the precepts directly ask us to do or avoid, we can understand with our natural reason. But when Jesus describes murder as an end station of an inner process of decay, beginning with wrath, and marital infidelity as a top of an ice berg of outlived sexual desires, detached from their divinely ordered purpose; then we understand that true obedience to the moral commandments – continuously upheld by the Church on Christ’s commission, independent of popular opinion – goes deeper and requires something more than we naturally are capable of, because of our wounds from original sin. Wounds causing us to commit the sins Jesus talked about in the Gospel, making us less virtuous, philosophically seen, and spiritually unclean, seen with the eyes of faith.

True alignment to the moral law, and the inner, spiritual purity it points towards, requires of us to receive supernatural, divine love, i.e. God’s will for our best and gift of himself. Instead of being rules imposed from the outside, the commandments, lived through grace from within, become a path of a personal vocation to holiness and a tool for transformation of us, inside out. Thereby, sin can be fought at the root, and true freedom, that no one can deprive us of, is at hand.

With Jesus Christ, holiness consequently becomes a quality within the person who acts, i.e. who lives in, with and for God, out of grace. The project for holiness, the growth in communion with God already here in time with death as a threshold to its eternal fulfilment, starts with professing Jesus Christ as Lord of our entire life and thus a will to do his will. Then, divine truth and love can stepwise transform us in a way that includes, but far transcends, what is prescribed by the moral precepts of the Mosaic and Natural Law. It was described by our second reading from the Book of James, as us doing, from within, “what the word … planted in” us, in order to “save” our “souls … tells” us.

The Pharisaic answer to Jesus is this: “I do not need you for salvation. My doings, according to my set of rules, suffice. I do not want you to change me in any way.” This is the voice of self-salvation. And although time and circumstances change, it remains the answer, both from us when we want to turn away from one or some of the moral commandments and the Church’s teaching on them, and from a cultural mentality permeated by the illusion that just the right political idea, the right leader, idol and influencer, the right identity, the right technical or scientific progress or the right commercial invention, will solve our problems.

There is nothing wrong with e.g. technical progress. On the contrary, it can help a lot. But the wound of original sin and the need for reconciliation will remain in us, and paradise never be a product of ever so great human advances. The greatest of all dangers to us, greater than both pandemics and climate change, is the Pharisaic attitude – then and now – rejecting Christ and his transformation of us, of and for eternal life starting already here. It underestimates misunderstands sin and consequently salvation. But sin is not a weakness that we can overcome, or something we do not need to bother about “any more”. Sin is a condition from which we have to be saved. By Jesus Christ. And only by him.

Let us therefore now surrender to him, who in the Holy Eucharist enters our physical, and therethrough spiritual, beings. To bestow upon us divine grace for our personal change to more of holiness. If we only consent through saying our “yes, so it is, bring it on”, i.e. our Amen.

 

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