In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus is in a confrontation with the Pharisees regarding the Jewish law. The Jewish law consisted of two parts, written and oral. The written law is called the Torah, as set down in the first five books of the Old Testament. The scribes expanded the written law in more detail, i.e. the oral law. Jesus’ confrontation was regarding the oral law. The intent of the oral law was to bring religion into the nitty-gritty of one’s life. However, what is that religion became a practice of performing external rituals – not to follow the rituals was a sin.
Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees was the focus on these external rituals and not on their interior disposition. The letter of James in the 2nd reading tells us: “Act on God’s word. If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves…Pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows…and to keep oneself from being corrupted.” Today’s “orphans and widows“ are the defenseless and/or the oppressed…unborn babies, the homeless etc.
Let’s look at another practical application of what Jesus is telling us in today’s gospel. When we go to Mass, we say the prayers, stand and kneel at the appropriate times, we sing out loud and we receive Holy Communion…while for the most part, everyone in the congregation is doing this…we only see the exterior of each person…we really don’t know what is going on inside each person…perhaps some are distracted or tired or preoccupied with something going on in their life…some may attend out of obligation only – hence we don’t know one’s motives or attitudes. That is where Jesus’ message applies – what is the motivation behind our religious practice? Jesus wants everyone to be motivated by love. The love of Jesus Christ, freely given to us must be freely received and shared with others – putting into practice the Letter of James.
May God bless us always!