Homily for twenty-second Sunday B
Jesus, the redeemer of the world was born and initiated into the Jewish culture, he grew up among Jews and must have known the importance of the ritual wash to his people. For the Jews do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands in accordance with the tradition of the elders. But the disciples of Jesus were found wanting in this all important aspect of his culture;
for the Pharisees and the Scribes who gathered round Jesus noticed that some of his disciples were eating without first washing their hands, and they questioned Jesus about it.
Culture or tradition is a way of life of a particular people, and it is so strong that separating people from their culture is like taking their lives away. St. Pope John Paul II understood the power of culture so much so that he promoted inculturation with so much zeal, he encouraged in the light of the Second Vatican Council to present the gospel message of Jesus Christ to people through their culture.
Jesus did not come to abolish the Jewish law and culture but to fulfil them. He said, think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished (Mt. 5:17-18). Jesus is the fulfilment of the law and the prophets, he did not in any way encouraged his apostles to be disobedient to the tradition of the elders but to make the Pharisees understand that the laws are made for man and not the other way round. We live no longer under the power of law, but under grace.
The Pharisees gathered round Jesus, not because they wanted to listen to the good news of salvation, but to get what to use against him. They gathered round him, yet their hearts were far away from him. They were so preoccupied by their evil plots that they were blinded to the truth. Jesus found in them the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecies; this people honours me only with lip-services, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless, the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.
As Christians and Catholics, we gather round Jesus to be nourished by his word and body, not to have our ‘ears tickled’ and expect the pastor to be fortune teller. Christianity must not be reduced to miracles, prosperity, healing and deliverance without being challenged to rise above the superficial practice of Christianity, to follow Christ in spirit and in truth. Jesus invited the Pharisees and also invites us today to go into deeper relationship with him, a relationship that is above rules and traditions of the elders.
We all are born into various cultures and we have our traditions. I am particularly proud of my African heritage, a very rich and beautiful tradition. However, we must submit or subject this beautiful tradition of ours and every other tradition to the purifying power of the gospel of Christ. Jesus is not setting us up against our elders and tradition, but making us understand our traditions in the light of his gospel. No matter how faithful we are in keeping the laws, if we have no Christ in us, the laws remains mere human regulations.
Christianity is not a religion of rules but of faith in action. St. James tells us in our second reading today that pure unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world. The Pharisaic obedience to the law is destructive; what brings salvation is obedience in faith in Christ Jesus.
We pray the Holy Spirit enlightens our minds and strengthens our will power to follow Christ in spirit and in truth.