Preparing for Ordinary Sunday 22B

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2009 at 12:25 am

“Israel” is almost constantly in the news.
And is in our first reading.
What we need to aware of, is that the Bible’s “Israel”
is not the modern political “Israel”.

“Israel” in the Bible refers to God’s faithful people,
a people, sure, defined by blood and culture,
but a people we believe is redeemed and redefined
to include us and all people who recognise and respond to God at work
through Christ our Lord.

“The Pharisees” on the other hand, appear often in the gospels,
but most of us know little about them.
They saw themselves as “Israel”, God’s faithful people.
They were a popular lay movement,
a genuine expression of popular piety.
At one level, they were a very “good thing”.
Jesus could at least talk, travel and argue with them.
In a sense, they were on the same journey, however distantly.

The Pharisees tried to carry the practice of the Temple Priests,
tried to take the holiness of the Temple out to the world.
Their ritual purification before eating
mirrored that of the Priests as they ate the Bread of the Presence,
which had been offered to God in the Holy of Holies.

They wanted to do the right thing.  Holiness in daily life.
But it got a bit stuck there.

The minutiae of the rules, and a fear of getting even near the rules
took over, and the whole reason for  having the rules was lost.
The Pharisees took the basics of ritual and practice,
the requirements of the Law
and “built a fence around them”.
In other words, lest they get close to unintentionally contravening the Law,
the Pharisees extended their practice, just to be on the safe side.

Without wanting to canonise Lou Reed,
I don’t think God wants us to  “Take a walk on the safe side”.

Apart from anything else, your attention gets distracted.
Instead of just washing your hands – good Health and Safety stuff,
you wash your whole forearm.
You’re on a whole obsessive-compulsive tangent there!

And while you’re washing and rewashing your hands –  or your bronze kettles –
while we’re caught up in the minutiae of religious or quasi-religious practice
we miss the heart of our faith   … and the faith of our heart.

Now, I have no doubt that there were many faithful Pharisees
whose practice gave expression and focus to a living faith.

Those of us of an Anglo-Catholic disposition are similarly placed:
with ritual, symbol and sign,
… we have make sure this is matched by practical, pragmatic faith lived out
and a regime of personal piety.

And it is not in any way inconsistent
that if we have a place for the drama and richness of our liturgy,
we have also a depth and demand for the heart of our faith.

The very fact that we may do some things almost as a matter of course,
crossing oneself, kneeling, genuflecting
– a bit like the meditative music of Taizé
draws us beyond the words…
offering us the opportunity to engage with the wholeness of our bodies
and the heart of our Tradition.

Hypocrisy was the most consistent of Jesus’ indictments
of the “religious” people of his age,
is about the inside and the outside not matching up.

Jesus doesn’t condemn the Law.

The idolatry Jesus points towards is the same that James describes:
If any are hearers of the word and not doers,
they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror.

Narcissus, that beautiful figure in Greek mythology,
who is transfixed by his own image in a lake.
And, unable to look away, drowns.

Ritual and tradition can help us find a path towards God,
but if miscast, can simply reinforce our sense of our own centrality.
As people of faith, we’re called to discover God.

James’ theology is clear, and we’ll hear it again next week..
Loving service, compassion, being mindful of and giving to others
is the fulfilment of the Law.
To be “religious” without these things is meaningless.
As empty as the bronze kettle you might find yourself scrubbing.

Nice to look at, … sad to have set your salvation on.

As Christians we believe that God was in Jesus Christ somehow embodied,
was given substance in a figure who went around doing good,
teaching, ttouching and healing those at the margins.

And James invites us to continue the Incarnation:
He says, Be doers of the word, not merely hearers.

Our actions are the expression of our faith.
Faith and works.
For all the arguments over centuries
of clever Church voices, they cannot be divided,
like who we are, and who we say we are.

The Pharisees were keen to make sure the inside and the outside
of the cup and the kettle were uniformly “clean”.
Jesus, I think, did appreciate the metaphor…

Let’s ask ourselves
whether the outside and the inside match.


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