The Responsorial Psalm that we hear between the first and second reading tells us explicitly: “They who do justice will live in the presence of God.” The Psalm today (#15) is literally a list of what to do or not to do: basically the idea is to be a just person and then you will live in the presence of God (now and later, I think). St. James (the Second Reading) puts it all more simply: “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word…care for orphans and widows…and keep oneself unstained by the world.”
In the Gospel (we are back to St. Mark!), we hear about people honoring God with their lips and not their hearts; living the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. It is clear in all the readings today that we must live our Christian life characterized more by what we do, than what we say we are...
The Gospel story also tells us to watch carefully what comes from within us—that we must examine our consciences for those things that are evil, to be watchdogs of our motives for the things we say and do. Jesus talks about ritual for its own sake rather than for the heart of belief, and he quotes Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…” We all have experienced this at times; we know Christians who judge and condemn, who have a lack of compassion or mercy. Jesus continues, “…in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts…” We are told that we disregard God’s law of love and cling to human tradition as if it were law. In the Gospel today, Jesus warns us to know the difference.
In a discussion with a non-believing family member, I was informed that the Church was full of hypocrites. Wow! Surprise! Stop the presses! (or the blogs…) News flash! I had no idea that people come to church with impure motives, smile when they don't even like you, and really don't mean it when they sing “Here I Am, Lord.” I'm just shocked. Of course, it's nice to know that God has rounded up all the hypocrites and put them in church buildings—at least on Sunday mornings—so that all the other people in the world who have pristine motives and clear consciences don't have to put up with them… (Yes, I know, a little sarcasm…)
But my family member is right, you know…there are hypocrites in the church. There are Christians who would fight to the death over the inspiration of the Bible, but who rarely take it down off the shelf to read it for themselves. There are Christians who would defend the importance of the Church, but who think nothing of gossiping about and slandering its fellow members. There are Christians who profess the peace of Christ and cry war; who profess love and spread hateful attitudes; and those who have a lack of charity for the marginalized and poor of the world.
I really am rarely surprised anymore, but I am frequently amazed at some of the attitudes that we Christians exhibit. I think it must astound and distress the Lord at our inconsistency between our beliefs and our behaviors—our ability to say we believe one thing while living another. I pray that we all stop deluding ourselves and that today we listen carefully to the Word of God proclaimed and ask: “Am I just a hearer of the Word, rather than a doer—do I live the Gospel of Christ?” Food for thought.
Just a Note: Here are a couple of songs about the Word of God. Be Doers, but be Hearers of these songs….