Liturgical Colour : Green
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday all of us are called to follow the Lord and obey His will and commandments wholeheartedly, and by this it means that each and every one of us should understand and appreciate the true nature, importance and purpose of the Law and the commandments that we may truly follow the Lord in the right manner, and not fall into the wrong paths as how many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done.
The Law of God had been revealed to His chosen people through Moses, and He made clear what they all needed to do in order to follow Him, by giving them sets of rules and regulations, the Law and the Commandments, centred on the Ten Commandments which highlighted the core tenets of the Law. Those laws and rules were all in fact meant to help the people to remember that they all ought to be faithful to God and to love Him, and to abandon all sorts of evil and wicked ways and practices, that they would not fall into sin and therefore destruction.
Yet, despite everything that the Lord had done for them, the people refused to listen to Him and disobeyed Him, repeatedly again and again falling into sinful ways, into the worship of pagan and false idols, and thus, the Lord imposed those laws and regulations meant to help them to remain true to the path He has shown them, and to stay away from the temptations that could lead them down the path towards damnation. It was never intended to make their lives difficult or to make it a burden for them to follow the Lord.
As mentioned in the Book of Deuteronomy in our first reading today, God has told His people through Moses, that they should not add any more or remove anything from the Law and the commandments that He had given them. That they should live in the manner that God has shown them, and called them to do. And this is truly what the Lord wanted from His people, to be righteous, good and virtuous, to be worthy of Him in their actions and deeds. He did not want them to suffer or to be burdened by those laws.
Yet, it was man themselves who misinterpreted and misunderstood His Law, and thinking of them as mere formality and regulations, that were dreaded and which the people found bothersome and unwilling to keep or follow. They also followed the temptations and worldly desires and were unable to keep up with the Law, fell into disobedience and refused to believe in God, fell into sin and suffered for their lack of faith in Him. They refused to listen to the prophets and messengers that God sent into their midst to guide then and help them.
Then on the other extreme, by the time of the Lord Jesus and His ministry, many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who imposed a very strict interpretation of the Law, which arose because of long period lasting centuries in which the people interpreted the Law in ever increasing rigidity as they experienced great suffering and the tragedy of the destruction of their nation and the first Temple, when Jerusalem itself was destroyed by the Babylonians, and many of the Israelites were uprooted into exile by the Assyrians and the Babylonians both.
As such, there were those over the centuries who sought to impose the Law strictly on the people, to keep them in toe and to prevent them from suffering the same fate. However, over the centuries, as things developed, some took it to the extreme, as the number of rules and regulations grew beyond what was originally prescribed in the Torah, or the Books of the Law corresponding to the first five books in the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. And those people entrusted with the spiritual leadership of the people and those deemed as experts of the Law ended up making these as a means to gain popularity and influence, and to be praised by the others who saw them.
But what the Lord often rebuked those Pharisees and teachers of the Law was the fact that despite having outwardly observed the Law, all the many rules and customs, but they did not truly love God in their hearts, and instead, they loved themselves and their interpretation of the Law more, as they lost the focus and the true intention of the Law, imposing the rules and regulations that ended up being too inwardly looking and bereft of true spiritual benefits, that they focused more and more on the letter of the Law than its Spirit.
For example, on the matter of the washing of hands before meal as mentioned by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law in today’s Gospel passage, the rules stated that the people ought to wash their hands in a particular manner, right up to their elbow and over a few times, and as well as other things to be washed and purified before doing certain things and activities. It was their preoccupation and excessive attention to the details and excessive attachment to the rites and rituals which distracted them from the true intention of the Law and the love of God which the Law was meant for.
And as St. James then mentioned in his Epistle, in our second reading today, we are all called to follow the Lord faithfully in our every actions and deeds, in doing the Law and putting to use the gifts that God has given us, in the Word that He has sown within our hearts and minds. We should not be mere bystanders or idle followers of God, or to be those who profess to be faithful to God and yet in our actions we have no God reflected in them, like how many of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law practiced their rigorous version of the Law and yet forgetting the true intention and purpose of what they have practiced and done.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to these readings from the Scripture, all of us are reminded that as Christians we have to be truly faithful to the Lord, in all things and from all of our entire being. We have to show our love to the Lord in all things, in our love for God in every words, actions and deeds, that all that we say and do, are truly for God and in accordance with God’s will. This is what we are called to do, and what we should be doing as we obey the Lord and do what we can to follow Him. And if we truly love the Lord, then as the Lord Jesus had said, we have to love one another in the same manner as well.
That is yet another reason why the Lord rebuked the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, that while they professed to love God, yet, they were lacking in love and empathy for their fellow brothers and sisters, often looking down on those who were deemed as sinners and unworthy, like the prostitutes, adulterers, tax collectors, people with diseases and demonic possessions, among others. The Lord was telling all of the people, including those same Pharisees and teachers of the Law, who were also often listening to Him, reminding them of the truth of the Law of God, the true intention and purpose of what the Lord has given to all of them.
That is why, He came not to abolish the Law and commandments, but rather to make it perfect for all of us. He wants us to rediscover our love for Him, and to practice it in our lives, to believe in Him wholeheartedly and not just being outwardly pious, and profess to be a loving Christian, yet we do not show love to our brothers and sisters, or are being prejudiced and angry at them. Indeed, we are not perfect people, and we make mistakes from time to time, and we do fall into being angry, jealous, prejudiced and biased against others, but what is important is that we must not allow those things to continue to shape our lives and actions.
If we truly love the Lord, brothers and sisters in Christ, then our love for Him must be genuine in all things, and not just being outwardly devoted. Some of us think that by saying long prayers and devotions, we are good Christians, but we ignore our brothers and sisters around us, or worse still, we gossip about one another, talking bad about others whom we encounter at work, at school, or even in our own homes, among our relatives and friends. Is this what is meant for us to be Christians? Certainly not. God called us to be His true disciples, not just in obeying the Letter of the Law, but also in the Spirit.
That is why, all of us should spend some time today and onwards to reflect on our lives and our attitudes. Are we really good Christians in all things, in loving God and in loving one another? Or have we loved ourselves more and been selfish all these while, in desiring recognition and praise, or in wanting God to do something for us and to give us what we want? We have to discern all these carefully, so that from now on, we may follow the Lord with the right intention, with the right love in our hearts, not love that is inwards and selfish, but rather pouring outwards from ourselves to God and to our brothers and sisters.
Just like our Lord, Who loved us all infinitely, and Who has given to us His life in exchange for our salvation, by dying on the Cross for us, we have to be life-giving in our every actions and deeds, in our words and interactions with one another. We have to remove from us the poison of ego and pride, of greed and desires for power and glory, all the things that prevent us from truly being faithful to God genuinely, and from loving Him and our fellow brothers and sisters as His Law has taught us.
Let us all obey God’s Law and commandments, brothers and sisters, following what the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit and following the traditions of the faith from the time of God’s Apostles, have given and shown us, in ways how we can lead a most wholesome Christian life, that we may draw ever closer to God and be ever more loving in our every actions, not just to ourselves, but even more importantly to God and to all those who need our love and care, our attention and kindness.
May the Lord move all of us in our hearts that we may walk with Him, in the path of love, of genuine Christian love, in full and true obedience to His Law and commandments. May all of us be ever more courageous in our faith, and seek the Lord for strength whenever we need Him, and provide that same support and strength to one another, when we are struggling and in need of assistance. May God bless us all in our every good endeavours and works, and bring us ever closer to His grace and presence. Amen.