Commentary on the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8

The purpose of keeping the Law is not a matter of blind obedience (obedience entails listening that is suppose to give ‘sight’—insight). It is about growing closer to the God of love and liberation who has first come close to us. (Reginald Fuller, )

An Overview of the Book of Deuteronomy:  This book is written in the form of an address by Moses to his people just before they were to enter the Promised Land. It is written as if it was Moses’ farewell address. It contains many long sermons and speeches that echo a much later reflection on the law and covenant than would have been possible at the time of Moses. (This kind of pseudonymous writing was a common ancient practice of authors; they hoped that the name of the respected leader would bring authority to their material.) The name, Deuteronomy, even means a second law – it is not really a second law, but a second look at the law given in Exodus by God through Moses. The writer was calling for reform and rededication. It is used here today, probably because Jesus is seen as the new Moses in the gospel, the One who teaches with God’s authority and wisdom. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Cycle B, 467-468)

2nd Reading: James 1: 17-18, 21-22, 27

Though it is unmistakably Christian, this book has a very Jewish feel to it.  There are a lot of do’s and don’ts, like a guidebook down the path of life. There is still debate among theologians who wrote this epistle.  It is most widely attributed to Jesus’ “brother” James, who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem – James the Just, not the apostle, (Powell, Intro. the New Testament, p. 445-450).  We don’t even know when it was written, whether 60s or perhaps later in the 80s & 90s.  Despite the reflection of Jewish Christian traditions, the writing itself suggests a Greek-speaking Jewish community because of its elegance (Perkins, Reading the New Testament, p. 297).

This ‘sermon’ addressed to the 12 tribes of the Diaspora (which refers to the dispersion of the Jews from Palestine after the Babylonian captivity and/or the Jewish communities living outside Palestine). It is asking them to translate their faith into good deeds. The vertical bond with God must also be expressed with horizontal sharing and caring about those in need. To be truly Christian is to act on what we hear, welcoming God’s word into our hearts, minds, and will. (Celebration, Sept.3, 2006)

The Gospel: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-22

What good news do you find in this gospel?  How is Christ speaking personally to you in this passage?

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B, 130 -132:  The ‘tradition of the elders’ was a set of practices that were defined, maintained, and practiced by elites who lived in the city. The Pharisees wanted everyone to observe this urban tradition. Peasants in the countryside or itinerants like Jesus would have great difficulty observing such traditions. Water was scarce and/or not readily available for such washings. Fishermen and other peasants regularly came into contact with dead fish, dead animals, and other ‘pollutants.’ Peasants had therefore developed the ‘little tradition’ which adapted the requirements of the ‘great tradition’ of the urban and more well-to-do people. Jesus, the artisan (carpenter), obviously sided with this little tradition; he knew first hand the realities and difficulties of peasant life.

            What we ‘see’ in this gospel is the challenge and retort that was common in Jesus’ day. Questions were rarely inoffensive; every question was a challenge. There was always the hope that the one being questioned would not know the answer. Therefore, they could be shamed. The word, hypocrite, meant actor. In other words, Jesus was saying: “You actors! Scripture may be the lines you quote, but it is not the script by which you live.” It was considered particularly ‘honorable’ to be able to draw creatively and insightfully upon tradition or scripture in the heat of an argument. Some of us Americans are a bit dismayed by Jesus’ ability to confront and insult rather than using tact and diplomacy. Yet, what we see here was how a male would have to respond to ‘make a point’ and maintain his honor. Jesus also changes the topic (another clever refuting skill) by using a parable to teach about what really defiles a person. It is not what one eats that defiles, but what ‘comes out’ of a person that defiles.

This gospel is also about table fellowshipwho should be welcomed at ‘God’s table’ . . . The ‘unwashed hands’ are not only the hands of peasants, but in Mark’s early Christian community they would also have been the hands of Gentiles.  Mark is making an important point that Jesus does NOT exclude from table-fellowship those who do not keep all the purity laws. Jesus’ offer of salvation was not only to the ‘clean’ of Israel, but also to the unclean. He invited sinners and tax collectors to join him at table – and to feed on his word. He still does! It is interesting to think about this during our procession to and from Communion. It is itself symbolic of what is taking place: all of us, the able and the lame, the ready and the not-so-ready, the healed and those in need of healing. We all walk together to Christ’s table.         (Living Liturgy, 2003, p. 202)

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