Homily – September 2018

Deut 4:1-2, 6-8, James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


We return to Mark’s Gospel on this Father’s Day.  There is an important teaching on freedom here, the “pendulum of freedom” unites both law and love in Jesus. 

Freedom is a very confused but absolutely vital concept in our world today.

The understanding of law is beautifully expressed in the First Reading.

Moses makes it quite clear to the people that they are to “take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life…”

Where as in today’s world, laws are often seen as restrictions and obstacles to freedom, in the Old Testament the absolute opposite is the case.

The laws are seen as liberating us.  Here the “external teacher” is that which God gives us, for example, the Ten Commandments.  They are to be lived out in full, because in living them out in full we live the kind of life that God wants for us, and that life is a life of freedom.

In observing them we have life!

In Mark’s Gospel today, it is quite clear that this “external teacher” has become trivialised over time.  Jesus clearly champions the freedom laws of God given to the people of God, but they have been trivialised into incidentals that grossly exaggerate their importance.  Jesus criticises those who insist on particular rituals regarding the “washing of their arms as far as the elbow” and then eating “without first sprinkling themselves.”  Also, there is the “washing of cups and pots and bronze dishes.”

By taking their eyes off God, these incidental laws have become as important as the laws given by God.  Jesus unapologetically calls those who demand such trivialities as “hypocrites.”

Jesus brings out the soul of the law which resides in the heart.  This is not only the “external teacher” but also the “internal teacher,” working together for the freedom of humanity.

Jesus makes it quite clear when he says, “For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge…”

So we know that freedom needs both the “external law” and the “internal law” of love in all that we do and say.

As in the Old Testament whereby they trivialise the law, there is more than just a simple tendency but a real ideology now, particularly in Australia, to trivialise love.

As legalism and ritualism are a real slavery to human freedom, so there is a real slavery in a very selfish and egotistical understanding of love.  Perhaps if Jesus was able to speak directly today he might call those who promote this way of being as “hypocrites.”

On this Father’s Day this is a challenge to all fathers and mothers, and anybody in authority including priests and bishops.  How do we get the balance between law and love and not trivialise love today where the ideology is always about “my way”?

The Second Reading suggests to us a synthesis between law and love on our pathway to living out the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

From the letter of St James we hear the good news that we are to “accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls.”  This is the “internal teacher.” 

The “external teacher” is there as well.  Rather than moving towards a reckless selfishness we are also to be attentive to those on the periphery of life.  St James tells us “But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.”

The Christian commandment is that this love must be expressed in practical ways.  St James suggests that the “help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.”

So let us be aware of the swinging of the “pendulum of freedom.”  Let us avoid the slaveries of ritualism and legalism, and also the slavery of self-love and a narcissistic way of living out our lives.  Both of these are real threats to freedom.

Christianity, finding its unity in Jesus Christ, the author and exemplar of our faith, combines law and freedom together perfectly in the Calvary Cross.

In total obedience in his heart to the Father, Jesus gave his life for us.  This ongoing Crucifixion and Resurrection gives us the way to live out our freedom in practical service of others.

As we ask God’s blessing upon all fathers today.  Let us think seriously about this important message that the scriptures give us.  May we always live in the freedom of Jesus.