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Monday, August 31, 2015

Called to Authentic Worship!

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 30, 2015
Saints Peter and Paul Parish, Tucson, AZ

Today’s readings for this 22nd Sunday of
Jesus and the Pharisees 
Ordinary Time call us to authentic worship. 

In today’s Gospel (Mark 7:1-8; 14-15, 21-23), we hear of our Lord’s encounter with the Pharisees along with some scribes.

In the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were one of the three major Jewish sects. They had arisen about 165 B.C. During this period, there was a strong tendency for the Jewish people to accept the Greek  pagan religious customs, and the Pharisees rose up as a sort of protest against this tendency of tolerance among the Jewish people. Their aim was to protect Jewish law, but as time went on, they began to develop a self-righteous attitude.

They made up a whole lot of traditions that were not part of God’s laws with the intention of helping people keep God’s commandments. For example, God told the Israelites to keep the Sabbath Day holy. So, they defined 39 categories of actions which would be forbidden on the Sabbath.

In today’s Gospel we hear about some of the traditions of purification. We hear that
“the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews would not eat without carefully washing their hands… Not only that, but there were many other things that they had traditionally observed, such as the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds…" We then hear that our Lord condemns them. Our Lord says, “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition!”

Now, as we reflect on this scene of Our Lord and the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, let us first be reminded that Our Lord was not complaining that the Pharisees were too rigid in following God’s laws. 

In fact, Our Lord  demanded not a lesser following of the law, but a more rigorous application of the law and the prophets. For example, Our Lord said that Moses allowed for divorce because of the Israelites' hardness of heart, but anyone who even looks at another with lust commits adultery in his heart. Not only those who murder will be liable for judgment, but whoever is angry with his brother. Do not simply love those who are good, but love your enemy and turn the other cheek. 

So Our Lord was not condemning the Pharisees for their rigidity in following God’s laws. He was condemning them because they were not allowing God’s laws to take root in

their souls. They clung to a bunch of rituals but their intentions were not pure. They did not allow God’s commandments to transform their hearts.

Overall, the Pharisees brought about a less  careful observance of the natural and divine laws of God through their emphasis on man-made rituals which distanced the people from the truth.

Moreover, the Pharisees had allowed their regulations not only to lead them away from true worship of God, but their many traditions had led them to an outward pride. … And so Our Lord recites the words of the prophet Isaiah:“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

My brothers and sisters, today’s Gospel passage of our Lord’s encounter with the Pharisees calls us to examine our relationship 
Fr. John Paul Shea 
with God. God wants our hearts. He wants our true devotion. He wants our faith to be real. He wants authentic worship!

Our Lord tells the people in today’s Gospel that “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile." 

Our Lord says that it is “from within people, from their hearts,” that come evil thoughts such as, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly -- "All these evils come from within and they defile.”

My brothers and sisters, each one of us struggles with sin, and sin defiles us. Yet, God wants us to renew our inner beings. He wants to purify our intentions. But we must allow Him to do so. We must give Him our hearts.

Today’s second reading from Saint James (1:17-18, 21b-22, 27) says, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” It is God’s Word alone that will save our souls.

God has planted His Word in our hearts at our Baptism. But Baptism is only the beginning. We must strive each day to allow the Word of God to take root in our daily lives. We do this by reading God’s Word in the Holy Scriptures
and by following His teachings. We do this by humbling ourselves and going to confession. We do this through daily prayer. We do this by receiving Our Lord worthily in the Holy Eucharist.

Saint James further says in today’s second reading that we are to keep ourselves “unstained by the world.”

Although Our Lord teaches us in today’s Gospel that evil comes from within our hearts, we are reminded also that the spirit of evil grows in our hearts through the bad influences of the world. Therefore, we must always be on guard. For the devil is prowling  like a lion looking for souls to devour. He is
the deceiver, and He loves to disguise evil as good in order to lead us astray from God’s true purpose. In fact, the Pharisees had thought they were doing good by following all their man-made rules. Yet, Our Lord reminds them that they were actually deceiving themselves. Their hearts were far from God.

Today’s readings call us to examine our motivations and desires in our relationship with God. God calls us to authentic worship. He wants our hearts. He wants our true devotion. He wants our faith to be real.

As we come to receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, let us ask the Lord to purify our hearts of all that is not of God so that we can live by His truth and become All who He calls us to be.

Authentic Worship in Spirit & Truth!

Did you enjoy this sermon? Maybe you'd like to read How Desperate Are We for God? 


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