James 1: 17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
A few years ago I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t watch more than an hour of news a day. Quite honestly, it’s too depressing most of the time and much of it is useless chatter, especially now that we’re into this presidential cycle of elections. As I listen to them and the commentators, I can’t help but to think that it’s more of an election for high school or middle school class president rather than for the United States, the way they bicker with one another and all of us know full well, deep within, that much of it is lip service, and in turn, very little substance. Yet, that becomes a way of life for us in this world where we fail to look at what is most important and get caught up in the wave of lip service that, in the end, is divisive, means not much of anything and we become, once again, consumers with someone trying to sell us something.
Now this is nothing new, this lip service. Even in the time of Jesus, many of these gospels that we hear seems to be lip service of the scribes and pharisees and Jesus trying to lead them to that place of substance within themselves. Here we are again today. Do the Pharisees and scribes that now gather around Jesus really care about his well being or that of the disciples or the crowd that is moving in on Jesus? Not necessarily. They cared about what they have made into their own god, these laws and prescripts about washing hands and things. The confrontation comes when they care about that where as Jesus tries to lead them to what is in the cups and jugs, inside ourselves; that’s where the change needs to take place. Quite honestly, this is why so many have lost interest in politics and for that matter, the institutional Church, because it has been so much about the lip service, so often about making gods out of the rituals, the ideology, the thoughts, making them an end in and of themselves, rather than seeking the true substance that gives life, that fills the cups and jugs and allows us to live life to the fullest, to be people of integrity and faith.
Be doers of the word and not only hearers as James tells us in the second reading today. We attach ourselves to these false religions he writes, when the word doesn’t lead to action, when the interior and exterior aren’t jiving, when all of this is about practicing rather than living. When we simply hear the word and not allow it to change our hearts, we undoubtably end up using it against the other or ourselves, to bring them down, to build ourselves up, as the scribes and pharisees do in today’s gospel, rather than allowing it to change our hearts. We all know that guilt and shame that so often becomes the driving force of our lives, holding us back from the very substance of who we are. That’s why Jesus sounds so harsh at the end of the gospel today of the stuff that we carry around in our hearts and become rigid in our lives. We become about trying to change others to conform to us and our way rather than being changed by the encounter with Christ. Here they are, front and center, building in around him, and they aren’t moved to seek the substance of their very lives, remaining rather on the surface, caught up in the rules, offering nothing but lip service. How easy it is to make God into something that God is not, for all of us.
The readings challenge us today to look at our own lives and our own hearts. First, are we falling for the lip service of others, easily buying into the lies. Second, are we in turn doing the same in our own lives, merely lip service but not seeking the very substance that gives life within. Be doers of the word and not just hearers, allowing ourselves to be changed by the word. Be people of integrity, where we in turn live life from that place of substance, not getting caught up in the exteriors of the cups and jugs or our lives for that matter, but come to accept that it’s the very substance within, the deeper truth of our lives, that gives meaning to who we are moving us from settling for lip service in our own lives to people of integrity, of true faith, rooted in the very Christ that leads to the full life we desire.