This Sunday I present for your consideration this Reflection by Eugene Hensell, OSB. —Msgr Richard
The phrase “talk is cheap” is a cliché not only because it is repeated time and again but most especially because it expresses an experiential truth. Nowhere is this more the case than in religion. People love to talk about religion from all perspectives. Religious arguments and disputes are commonplace in all areas of society. However, quite often the words end up being simply that—words. They do not lead to actions, behavior, or significant deeds. This is not something new nor was it something about which our Jewish and Christian ancestors were ignorant. All three readings plus the responsorial psalm of today’s liturgy address the issue of words related to actions.
The book of Deuteronomy portrays Moses giving the chosen people a final review of their covenant commitments before they cross over into the Promised Land. There is great emphasis here on hearing the statutes and decrees of the Lord. However, it is not enough just to hear them or to talk about them—they must be observed, they must be put into practice. The future nation of Israel will not be judged by its words but by its actions. It will be considered a wise nation if it hears the words of the Lord and puts them into practice.
The second reading is from the letter of James. One never has to wonder what James is attempting to say. He is blunt, forthright, and practical. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” For James, Christianity is not a philosophical theory, not about saying the right words, not even about arguing issues of religion in a persuasive manner. Christianity is a way of life rooted in faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and as such has given us a new way to live our lives until He comes again.
Today’s Gospel reading from Mark approaches this issue of words and actions from a slightly different point of view. Jesus and his disciples re criticized by the Pharisees for the lax way they deal with the purity laws regarding washing hands before a meal. In response to this confrontation, Jesus challenges the Pharisees by declaring they have all the rights words and ritual practices but it never gets below the surface of all things. Real and authentic observance comes from the heart and is the result of personal internalization of divine teaching. Empty words and empty rituals are the basic actions of a hypocrite, an actor, someone playing a part.
The responsorial psalm summarizes all this very succinctly with the phrase, “The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” Examples of peoples who call themselves Christians saying one thing and doing another abound. Hypocrisy is almost like a virus that infects even those we thought to be immune from such things. This is not a time for name calling or passing judgment on others. It is a time to reaffirm our Judeo-Christian traditions. Words matter, but putting those words into action fulfills their intent. Christianity is about “praxis” or putting our faith into practice. Many people today are getting numb from hearing all the harsh and critical words being exchanged by politicians, religious leaders, and others. We are tired of all the talking heads and we are embarrassed by their growing lack of civility. So what can we do? We can consciously commit ourselves to being doers of the word and putting our faith into practice.
Eugene Hensell, OSB, a Benedictine of St. John University, Collegeville, Minnesota