August 30, 2015, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Moses told the people, ”Now, Israel, hear the statues and decrees that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land that Adonai, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. …”In your observance of the commandments of Adonai, your God, you must not add or subtract from that which I am giving you.”
Note that in those days the Jewish people didn’t as yet have a concept of reward other than in this life. It wasn’t until Jesus’ time that a whole group of people believed in an afterlife and that sometimes people would have to struggle all their lives and keep the faith without seeing a reward. Jesus taught by his example and words to love even to death, death on a cross. That is the basic commandment of God: love God and neighbor as Jesus did, to the end, without expecting a reward in this life. How each person lives that out is different.
I imagine Pope Francis is not going to come out with a major teaching that same-sex marriage is acceptable, but he did show that he respects people’s efforts to love in their own way. He apparently read the books that a lesbian woman sent him about a child having two mommies. He sent her a letter and an Apostolic Blessing. Now that’s love. That’s his interpretation of how to follow the basic law of love of God and neighbor, both for him and for the two mothers!
What about the loving compassion that leads people to spend their lives helping those who are mentally or physically impaired, addicted to drugs or other substances or behaviors! What unselfish love it takes for people to help someone like Dee Curry and her efforts to live a healthy, productive life. Pathways to Housing DC, is a nonprofit in DC that implements the Housing First model among those with severe mental illness. Housing First offers the most vulnerable, chronically homeless people permanent housing and the supportive services to address mental and physical health, substance abuse, education and family reunification so that people can get back on their feet. Many times the staff doesn’t see positive results at first or for a long time, though they do have an 85% success rate of keeping people off the street.
Dee Curry came to them after many attempts to get away from drugs and homelessness. She is happy to say, “They saved my life!’ In her long road back from chronic homelessness, Dee found navigating social services overwhelming. The staff at Housing First was there for her every step of the way. She now knows that she can trust them. One staff person offered to accompany her to a job interview. They stayed with her when she went back to drugs and lost her apartment. They helped her find a way back. They taught her how to stay on a budget. Now in her third apartment, no longer struggling with addiction, she says: “Finally I feel like myself.”
Back to Moses and to Jesus, who quoted Isaiah, saying: “These people honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.” Jesus was interested in what was in people’s hearts. He didn’t condemn the Pharisees for their beliefs. He was questioning their motives. He was teaching that actions must flow from deep convictions and be genuine expression of one’s praise or gratitude, of one’s need or reparation. The discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees in Mark was a normal kind of dialogue that well-meaning Jewish people would have and still have over how a particular passage in scripture is best be interpreted.
Our church hierarchy would do better, as Pope Francis is doing, to dialogue with people in a particular situation on how a law or commandment could best be applied. That implies that people listen to each other and respect others’ honest point of view.
Jesus readily forgave people who admitted their failures and were trying to do what was right. The same thing is true for us. Christ is always with us when we try to do what is right and speak the truth. His concern is that his word take root in us. Like the people in recovery at Pathways, who learn to trust loving people, we need to learn to trust that we are being led to wholeness, and to trust that we can trust our true selves. At Seeds of Hope in Indianapolis, a home like Pathways, residents are required to keep a journal and spend one hour a day in prayer or reflection, another way to learn how to interpret God’s law of love.
So, there are some things that are essential to wholeness and some areas where we can make choices and need to make choices. Some things are from God’s laws and are necessary and somethings where we need to discern what is best. That’s where prayer and reflection come in for us, too. The most important aspect is to have right relationships: kindness over cruelty, compassion over condemnation.
That’s the whole of God’s law and the key to how to interpreting what it means in a particular situation is to stay attuned to God’s word both personally and as a community through prayer, study and asking questions.
Maria Thornton McClain, RCWP
August 30, 2015