18th Sunday in ordinary time: Implanted in your heart – Times of Malta

Posted By on August 29, 2021

Todays readings: Deuteronomy 4,1-2.6-8; James 1:17-18.21b-22.27; Mark 7,1-8.14-15.21-23

Prior to the Israelites entry into the Promised Land, while standing on the plains of Moab, the elderly Moses reiterated the covenant that God had made with them years earlier on Mount Sinai. Such a momentous occasion called for both the remembrance of Gods faithfulness in fulfilling his promises and also a renewed commitment to adhere to his divine will, so clearly expressed in his law. Mosess words in the Book of Deuteronomy can be summed up simply as follows: If you obey, youll live; if you disobey, youll die.

This divine word was so highly esteemed that it was eventually translated into several other languages. Despite doubts regarding its authenticity, the 2nd century BC Letter of Aristeas purports to explain the reason behind the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek a couple of centuries before Christ. Allegedly, Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt was so impressed by the laws of the Jews that he asked Eleazar, the High Priest of Jerusalem, to select elders to carry out this translation for him to keep a copy of the Bible in his royal library.

Speaking in jest to an Italian audience, actor Roberto Benigni put forward the idea that the seventh commandment, Thou shalt not steal, was inscribed by God not in Hebrew, but in Italian, for them to receive the word directly without need for translation. Fortunately, Bible translators have made it possible for us to have access to all Gods words in our own native tongues such that none of us can feign ignorance of his will. St Augustines conversion began when he heard a voice chant the words Tolle, lege (Take up and read), a phrase which pointed him to the Bible.

The Torah the divine law given through Moses which was so staunchly guarded by the Pharisees, but whose true nature Jesus sought to reveal, was not exactly a law in the modern sense of the word. The very word Torah is derived from a verb which means to shoot [an arrow], hence it denotes aiming in the right direction. Gods law is not meant to suffocate and restrict, but to guide and direct.

The Letter of James speaks of the impact of Gods word on us in even more touching terms when he describes it as a birthing process: He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Jesus was always very unimpressed by lip service. Hanging on to sterile religious traditions which had mushroomed over the years gave his hypocritical adversaries a false sense of holiness, but Jesus made it clear that they were missing the wood for the trees. Their worship of God was empty because their hearts were not truly one with his. No wonder that Jesus says that God seeks people who worship him in spirit and truth.

Not even meticulously accomplished religious duties are a guarantee of true obedience to God. If the heart is not in it, it would amount to a system that is a parody of the true religion God is after, namely one that is based on compassion and that entails the shunning of all that goes against Gods will.

While the Pharisees, obsessed as they were with ritual cleansing, militated in favour of the purity of the hands, Christ advocated purity of the heart, the seat of human emotions, which at times could be allowed to be filled with filth and yet co-exist with superficial demands of a thwarted religiosity. Yet this same heart is also the privileged host of none other than Gods own word. Hence, St Jamess loving admonition to all believers: Receive with humility/gentleness the word implanted in you, which is able to save your souls.

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18th Sunday in ordinary time: Implanted in your heart - Times of Malta

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