Year B, Twenty-second Sunday Ordinary

Is Our Personal Faith Merely 'Lip Service'?

September 3, 2000


Ronald D. Curley

TEXT: The Holy Gospel According to Saint Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23

Someone once told me a little story of the man who went to Heaven who was being shown around Heaven by Saint Peter, (when suddenly upon entering a new area of Heaven) he was met with strange sight of millions and millions of small floating "soft pink objects" that looked, upon close inspection like they were "human lips" without any bodies attached - just floating "human lips." As the man stood there with Saint Peter and watched the millions and millions of them - the "lips" seemed to be moving as though they were conversing about things wonderful. When the man questioned as to what this meant - Saint Peter grinned and said - "My son, hast thou never heard of the scripture which sayeth -- 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me?' These objects that float before thee, numbereth in the millions and millions. These 'lips' are the only part of all of those people that made it into Heaven. Their lips were all that served God, therefore, only their 'lips' were saved."

Now, we know that this is a homely illustration and I am being a little silly in giving it to you today...

However, there are many people who are in the world who think that just because they talk the talk -- that talking about the faith is all that matters in life.

Walking the walk with Jesus is far from many of them. "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me" is a terrible state of affairs for a human being to be in, because it is God who will judge each person according to the Faith that worked within their lives. (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-10; James' Epistle)

Thus it was with the Pharisees of the Gospel today.

1 Now when the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem,

2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed.

3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders;

4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.)

Many are so entrenched in traditionalism to the exclusion of a true heart relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Yes, tradition is very important. We have many traditions of special importance to us in the Church too. Without tradition, we have no identity in God's plan and purposes. It is God who makes and encourages traditions, holy traditions and rites - for example, the Holy Eucharist and Baptism. All tradition is not suddenly to be thought of as bad as we read this passage.

What is at the heart of the matter here in the Gospel reading is the propensity of many people to consider their personal understanding of traditions as more important than the personal relationship we are called in God to have at the deepest levels of our soul and the way we live for God alone.

Thus for the Pharisees of this passage, it was a ritual of hand washing that was at the core of the discussion by the Pharisees toward Jesus.

5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?"

Why are you not doing as we do it! - In so many words, if your disciples are not following the "rules" we established, then, how can they be genuine? And, how, Jesus, can you be genuine?

So, our Lord Jesus answers them --

6 And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;

7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'

8 You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men."

Note -- they "leave the commandment of God." The central core of the commandment of God is Deuteronomy 6:4,5 -- "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." The other part of this was - Leviticus 19: 17 and 18 -- "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD."

What was the issue here? The issue was one of hypocrisy. It was that the Pharisees were saying one thing and doing another.

Pope Saint Gregory I said - "That man is rightly accounted a hypocrite, who diverts the ministry of government to purposes of domination." ("Pastoral Care, 2. 6)

The Pharisees were supposed to be pastors, but they had become dominators of the people of God. They had become new "taskmasters," binding the people under heavy rules.

Jesus used here very harsh words here toward these "impostors."

It is G. K. Chesterton who called this kind of hypocrite a "very unhappy man" who when he becomes really accomplished is an "impostor... "...the most wretched of geniuses: he is a Napoleon on a desert island." (from "Robert Browning")

What a terrible description of this word, chilling!

So, Jesus, the Lord of Glory, makes it clear what we are to serve God with. IT is MORE than our LIPS!

14 And he called the people to him again, and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand:

15 there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him."

It is the INSIDE of us that makes the difference. What is our spiritual state?

Are we hypocrites? Or, are we genuine Christians?

Beloved let us with Mary, our Mother - BE GENUINE people of God!

The battle is one for our souls!

21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery,

22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.

23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man."

It is within the soul that the battle rages onward. Satan would twist us unto death and damnation!

Yet, we are told that Jesus who is in us is greater than Satan, the world, and the flesh! Whosoever will call upon the Name of the Lord will be saved. We call for the grace to cooperate with the graces of God! God has made the graces available to us in Jesus. He distributes these to us through Mary's intercession abundantly. Let us cry out to God for grace and receive according to the humility of our hearts, which cannot make it on our own without God's grace!

Our personal faith in God is not a mere lip service, where all that serves God is our lips alone.

Our faith must be built upon the Rock!

Our faith in God must see Jesus - our Vine and we are his branches.

Let us fully commit our lives in their entirety to God.

May God bless you this day and forever with grace and peace.

Deus et Sanctissima.

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