DEURTERONOMY 4:1-2, 6-9
The setting for the book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ long, final dissertation to Israel, before they enter the Promised Land. The first three chapters are a detailed recounting of their years of wandering in the wilderness. Beginning with chapter four, Moses gives detailed instructions to Israel. Many of these instructions become part of the 613 “Laws of Moses”. The book ends with Moses’ death in chapter 34.
- Moses begins by telling them what he’s going to tell them—some rules to live by. (v. 1)
- He then states that these rules are complete. They shall not to add or subtract from them. This verse shares a theme with today’s gospel lesson. More on that later. (v. 2)
- The next paragraph gives the reason for all these statutes and ordinances. These will set them apart from the other nations around them. The completeness and justice of Israel’s law will bring them respect from other nations. (vv. 4-8)
- The passage closes with a caution to follow these rules closely, and pass them on to their children. (v. 9)
The Laws of Moses shaped everyday life in Israel. The law was complete and just. It ordered the lives of Israel, which set them apart from the surrounding cultures. You could tell that they served Yahweh simply by their actions.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Based solely upon our actions, can people recognize us as Christians?
In recent weeks, we have studied Old Testament Wisdom. Many believe the Book of James to be a collection of Christian wisdom rather than an epistle. That is how we will approach this book.
- God is called “the Father of lights” in verse 17. This is a reference to Genesis 1:14, where he created the “lights” we call the sun and moon. This Father is generous with the gift of divine wisdom. James is about to share this heavenly wisdom with us, so we can live our lives as good Christians. We Christians have been given this gift so we may be like the first fruits of God’s creation. (vv. 17-18)
- If you have a temper, like me, these next verses hit the nail on the head. There is no room for being angry for the children of God. James tenderly says that anger “does not produce God’s righteousness”. I would say it much more bluntly than that! (vv. 19-20)
- Furthermore, instead of wickedness and sordidness (whatever that is), we should be meek and welcome the word of God. (v. 21)
- The next paragraph is where the rubber meets the road. James encourages us to show our faith in our actions. He uses the illustration of looking in a mirror to make his point. He says that when we look in the mirror, our shortcomings are clear. But as soon as we turn away from the mirror, we forget. This reminds me of some Sundays. In church, I am reminded of my shortcomings. I receive forgiveness. I am inspired to live according to Jesus’ teachings. On the drive home, if I’m being tailgated or am cut off by another driver, all that inspiration evaporates in an instant. James tells me “Don’t let that happen!” No anger. Be meek. Show the love of Jesus. At this point, I should do a U-turn, and go back to church. (vv. 22-25)
- Verse 26 addresses the problems surrounding what comes from our mouths. James is a little harsh here, but his point is well-made.
- “Religion”, or our faith in action, is best demonstrated in how we treat the disadvantaged around us. James names the famously disadvantaged—orphans and widows. More on this in Food for Thought.
James gives us good direction on how to be recognizable as Christians. These actions are not our salvation, but our response to Jesus’ dying on the cross. Faith in him is what saves us. Our actions, hopefully good, are merely expressions of thankfulness for what he has first done for us.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
James uses widows and orphans as sort of “poster children” for those around us who are in need. Who around you needs God’s love? Since we are followers of Jesus, it is our job to be his hands and feet in this place. Here’s a starter list. Feel free to add to it.
- The hungry
- The poor, or those who cannot make ends meet
- The uninsured (especially health insurance)
- Those mourning the loss of a loved one
- Those suffering from illness
MARK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
It would be an understatement to say that Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees did not get along. They seem to constantly criticize him. He, in turn, gives it right back to them. Some theologians believe that Jesus’ family might have been from the sect of Pharisees. He seems to be very familiar the ins and outs of the sect, as well as the pitfalls. Whatever it was, Jesus again turns a confrontation into a teaching moment.
- The Pharisees criticized Jesus and his disciples for eating with unwashed hands. One of their rules involved ritual washing, which was a law that was in addition to the Laws of Moses. (vv. 1-5)
- Jesus’ response focuses on the gap between their actions and what should be written on their hearts. He says that they go through the motions of obeying commandments, but “their hearts are far from me”. Their worship is vain! (vv. 6-7)
- More to the point, the rules they are following are not God’s commandments, but are merely human traditions. These were not part of the Law of Moses. (v. 8)
- When Jesus says “Listen to me, all of you, and understand”, it is time to stop what you’re doing and pay attention. (v. 14)
- Jesus says that it’s what comes out of a person that makes them unclean, not what goes in. He gives us a starter list, but we all know that the complete list is a lot longer. (vv. 15, 21-23)
This story begins as a discussion about Jesus’ disciples not following certain traditional rituals. True to form, Jesus changes the subject slightly to a lesson about the source of evil. The source of evil is not external, it is within all of us. It is up to us to control what comes out of our mouths, rather than what and how things go into that mouth. I don’t know about you, but washing fruit is a lot easier than controlling my tongue!