Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B
Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8; James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
This summer, my family and I went on a road trip for our vacation. I wanted to visit my mom in Omaha, and my wife is still uncomfortable flying with so much Covid out there, so we decided to see the local attractions along the way there and back. On the return home, we spent two days in Chicago. Now Chicago has many interesting places to visit in the downtown area where we stayed, especially in their beautiful Millennium Park. This is where there is one particular piece of art that was opened to the public fifteen years ago which is titled “Cloud Gate,” but almost everyone there now refers to as the “bean.” [https://millenniumparkfoundation.org/art-architecture/cloud-gate/] This is because it looks like a pinto bean. That is, if a pinto bean were 66 feet long, 44 feet high, and made entirely of stainless steel highly polished to look like chrome on a new car. Now if you struggle to find the appeal of a giant chromium bean, let me tell you that the day we saw it, it was mobbed with people. I think I hit on one of its strongest draws when I dubbed it a “selfie magnet.” Almost everyone there wasn't looking directly at it, but was looking at it through the camera on their phone. If you are like me and don't get why this would have its obvious attraction to some people, especially young people, today's Gospel is asking us to try to get it.
What was going on in today's Gospel reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a man who told me he had left St. James. Among the list of grievances that he had, he listed the “I Love St. James” letters that were put out in front of our church last year. He told me that he thought that this was not something a church should be doing. In other words, there was a right way to have a church, he knew what it was, and this was not it. No doubt he also would be able to tell the mayor of Chicago what she could do with her bean. How so like the Pharisees in today's Gospel, lecturing Jesus on how one should act. They knew better, and weren't afraid to let everyone know it. Now it's important to know that the Pharisees were not a Jewish splinter group, some cult, or otherwise bad people. They were not the leading Jewish families who were most influential at the Temple during the lifetime of Jesus – those were called the Sadducees. The Pharisees were a group of Jews who wanted to bring back a sense of Jewish identity and religious practices that were fractured during the two exiles, first in Babylon and then in Persia, followed by the domination of Palestine by both the Greeks and then the Romans. So their intentions were good, but their methods are what earn the rebuke of Jesus – they had become the orthodoxy police.
How often do we ourselves fall into this trap? How often do we say that a certain food is good or bad, that a particular piece of music is horrible, that a building is well designed? These are of course all matters of taste, but when it comes to our own taste, we automatically give ourselves the power of absolute judgment on the merits, instead of humbly admitting that, say, we find a particular food good but that others might disagree. We constantly, due to the sin of pride, confuse absolute truths with relative judgments. This is what Jesus is dealing with in the Gospel. We must do as God commands – that is not negotiable. And if we add our own individual acts of piety to the list, this is good, but if we then force others to adopt these extra practices we overstep our authority. It is so easy to do, especially because we want loved ones around us to like the same things we like. I personally would love my son to follow in my footsteps: be an engineer, serve his country in the Navy, be active in his Church. But I also know that if I press these desires that I have onto him too strongly, I risk doing that which I definitely don't want to do: drive him away from these things.
Today's readings today are full of things that teach what we should not do. The scriptures are also full of other passages that tell us what we should do, and one in particular is very relevant to us today, and is the last commandment Jesus gave before he ascended into heaven: go and make disciples of all people (Matthew 28:19). The importance of evangelization was the topic of Pope Francis' first major document as pope, was a theme throughout the Second Vatican Council documents, and has been extensively pursued by all recent popes, especially Saint Pope John Paul II. If bringing disciples into our Church is truly one of our most important goals, should we not look for ways of interesting the unchurched to be here? Is it about us or about them?
The parish intention for this week is to pray for young adults. We all know of young people that have been brought up in the church and received the sacraments only to fall away from their practice. Many of us have seen members of our own family do this. Father Oscar has made many changes here at St. James, some of them which you might have agreed with, and some of which you may not have understood why it was done, or not liked how it was done, or both. I'll be the first one to say that I don't get the allure of some things others find interesting. When my family goes into a town that has a similar “I love ___” sign, my wife makes me and my son go up to it, stand there, grin, and have our picture taken. Or at Broadway at the Beach with those campy signs with the faces cut out. Or at the big mural in downtown Conway. Or … well, you get the idea. I don't get it, but I get that others do. So when Father attempts to try different things, we should welcome his efforts and not disparage them. He has instituted a Town Hall meeting once per month to solicit more ideas from our parishioners on how to meet the needs of our parish, especially the youth and young adults, and our youth minister Taylor has done an exceptional job of laying out her plans which she and the staff have developed, and has sought input from others. Many have attended and put in their ideas, and many others have supported these ideas. We should all support these efforts and not be Pharisees who demand that everyone love God in the same exact way that they do. Our wonderfully large Church has many and diversified ways to worship God, from the traditional, to the charismatic, to the modern, and many more. And if we add to this list to interest those people who may find in one of them a road back to our Church, so much the better.
In just a few minutes, we will come up to receive the Eucharist. Like the Mass itself, this is not optional and is a dogma of our faith, since Christ clearly told us that we were to “do this in memory of me” [Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24]. As we receive our God at the altar, let us ask for His help to become more tolerant of the wishes and needs of others, and more willing to adapt to them where possible in order to bring them, and ourselves, closer to the Lord. Let us use our God-given talents and resources to obey the command of Christ and bring others to Him and His Church. We ask for His help as we try not to be complaining and grumbling Pharisees but instead learn to be joyful disciples.