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Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Scriptural Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15:2-3a, 3b-4a, 4b-5; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

My dear encountered couples:

Do you have anyone in your life that always seems to have the ability to push the wrong buttons and draw you into something that you are later sorry for? A while ago, I was in the presence of someone – an acquaintance, not a friend, and I really did try to be very careful and cautious in my conversation. But then it happened! We got onto that one topic that we can’t discuss without some kind of argument or disagreement. I get sucked into the situation of the battle for the last word. And all this happens even after I tell myself that I’m not going to let it happen again. I hope someday I will learn to completely avoid this certain topic with this individual.

Once again in today’s gospel, Jesus is embroiled in a confrontation and controversy with the Scribes and Pharisees. They have pointed out to Jesus that his disciples were eating without washing their hands in the prescribed and legal manner. They’ve obviously pushed the wrong button because Jesus really goes after their hypocrisy – they honor God with their lips and legal observances, but their heart is far from God. They teach human precepts as though they were important doctrines.

Then Jesus calls the crowd – there is a point he wants to make with them. “It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come. The things that come out from a person are what defile.”

Jesus has turned his attention away from the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus has turned to the crowd and disciples because he wants them to learn something from being present at this encounter. Nothing from the outside makes us impure; nothing from the outside is sinful. Evil intentions come from within! The same heart that loves God and others is the heart that can give rise to selfishness and sin. That may seem hard to believe until we verify it through our own reflection and experience.

We hear God’s Word; we celebrate God’s love; we share at God’s table and we make our resolutions, our promises. We are like those people at the time of Moses in our first reading. We hear what God wants and we are ready to say “yes.” Then we go out into our own little worlds – and look at what happens.

I meet that person again and the conversation goes along nicely until somehow, we get to the wrong topic. Nothing that other person can say or do can make me say the wrong things. It’s nothing from the outside, but now it becomes so easy for my selfishness to blossom as I want to get the last word.

You resolve not to get involved in the gossip and rumors, but at the break or at lunch the conversation is going on and all of a sudden, you are pitching in. The young person decides what he or she will or will not do when in the group. And no one in the group forces, but it just becomes so easy to go along. The husband or wife vows not to get involved in a power struggle when there is a disagreement, but it seems to happen again and again.

Jesus was right on target. It all comes from within. Nothing on the outside is going to defile us and no one on the outside is going to force us. But so often it’s the situation that makes it so easy for the worst in us to surface. Our second reading urges us, “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers.” And that indeed is our goal – and we come here week after week to re-focus, to renew our resolution, to feed on the gift of Christ’s banquet.

Will we ever get it right? Will we ever root out all selfishness from our lives? I’m not sure it happens this side of heaven. There will always be the tension and the struggle between what we should be doing and what the selfishness in our nature wants to do.

The disciple is the one who doesn’t give up. The disciple is the one who tries to turn the heart to God more and more and will always have to rely on God’s mercy and patience.


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