Homily for the 22nd Sunday in ordinary time
Dearly Beloved, on this 22nd Sunday in ordinary time, the church introduces us to the beginning of yet another New Testament book, The Epistle of James. We will be reading from this epistle till the very end of September. This James, in the extended Jewish family tradition is the brother of our Lord. He is thus different from James the brother of John and their father was Zebedee. James is the English rendition of IAKOBOS in the Greek Bible. In my native “twi” language, James is rendered “Yakubu” which is very close in pronunciation to the Greek. That is the reason why many ancient and modern translations render this name as JACOB.
We get to encounter this James from the book of Acts (Acts 12&15) and some Pauline letters (Gal. 1-2). As St. Peter moves on from Jerusalem to start new churches, this James now becomes the head of the mother church in Jerusalem. He was the one who chaired the first council in Jerusalem deciding the fate of gentiles. He led this church for about 20 years till he was tragically murdered. Many of these times under his leadership were characterized by great hardship of persecution, famine, and poverty in the church. Through it all, James was known as a great pillar in the Jerusalem Church, a man of wisdom, courage and of faith.
James begins this book in a letter style with greeting to the “twelve tribes scattered across the nations”. Unlike Pauline letters which seeks to address and expound on theology in specific churches, this book presents words of wisdom, motivations, and encouragements and, generally, ways to live daily as a Christian. He, as it were, does not concentrate on teaching new theologies as Paul does, but rather gets into your daily life and challenges the way you live as a Christian. Studied carefully, his writing is greatly influenced by the teaching about life and the kingdom with special reference to the sermon on the mountain. He was also influenced by the book of proverbs. The book consists of short and challenging wisdom teachings, a lot of metaphors and easy to remember one liners. It is an invitation to the messianic people to live daily in line and accordance with Jesus’ summary of the Torah “Love of God and love of neighbor”.
With this brief introduction, I hope you will start reading this small book of James with only five (5) chapters.
Now lets direct our attention specifically to the readings of the day.
In the gospel, we heard how the Pharisees and the scribes were so obsessed with the “exteriors” in their worship of God. They ended up limiting worship to the performance of religious rituals and ceremonies to the detriment of the inner transformation that was far more important. To this, Jesus spoke against and condemned them when he quoted from the prophet Isaiah:
This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.
You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition."
St. James in the second reading speaks in definition of what true religion and true worship should entail in these words:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to care for orphans and widows in their affliction
and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
That was the problem Jesus had with the leaders in his time. They neglected the needs of the vulnerable and the afflicted and were so much into rituals and ceremonies. Not as if rituals and ceremonies were bad in themselves. In themselves, there is nothing wrong. However when it is over emphasized to the disadvantage of a real need in leading a person to God, then there is a problem.
In the past, some church leaders unfortunately have equally been obsessed with saving some “important” individuals and the name of the church by covering up abuse situations. These have been done to the disadvantage of the vulnerable and innocent people who should have been protected in the name of true and pure religion.
Dearly beloved, with all the news on priests’ abuse, scandals, and cover-ups, etc, you are right to have that righteous anger inside you and I understand. Many are frustrated, some are at the verge of losing their faith, some are very confused and these are natural response towards whatever is happening. True and pure religion that pleases God takes care of the weak and the vulnerable. True religion comes to their defense and does not work against them. A lesson the church today has learned in a hard way.
In the midst of all these frustrations, I wish to encourage you not to give up:
1. Because your faith is in the one who dies to save you out of love. Because your faith is in the God who controls the affairs of man. And as St. James put it, “ there is no trace/shadow of change in HIM”. He is the same yesterday, the same today and He will be the same for ever. And in the depth of your hearts, you know he is able to restore all things and give back hope.
2. Since the 2000’s when these issues of cover-up of priests’ abuse started becoming public, the various dioceses including our own, Richmond, has put in place many interventions and proactive measures to protect children, again, not to shield or cover-up any reported case of abuse. The news of past revelations may not be over, however I can assure you, instances of shielding an abuser is long gone and over.
3. We know and are aware of the schemes of the one who is behind all these. The devil. Dearly beloved, behind the free choice and action of a priest, bishop or even a cardinal in such despicable crimes toward a child who should have been protected and cared for, is the devil. We should not under-estimate the reality and power of Satan. Whatever pain and frustration we feel today, is what he feeds on. We find ourselves as a church in a warfare. The church has been his ancient and common enemy. His efforts as always has been to thwart her efforts. St. Paul reminds us, Eph, 6 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. If the mission of the church in the world is rendered meaningless, and her message powerless, what will be the next stage of our world? What will regulate and be the voice of the moral order in our world? Friends, there is more than that which meets the eye and what the mind can understand.
Dearly Beloved, it’s not as if we are powerless in the face of all these frustrations as the world would want us to believe. We should approach God through his divine mercy and seek pardon. However, you have all the tools to stand up to the devil and his schemes. You have the Eucharist, the rosary, you the saints, the sacred heart, the novenas etc. like the saints of old. God trusts that you are able to withstand these pressures. At the end of it all, victims will be relieved and healed, the church will be healed and restored as well. I pray that your faith in God sees you through these hard times.