Finding the strength and courage to put into practice the Christian life
By Father R. Michael Schaab
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time/Sept. 2
Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8; Psalm 15:2-3,3-4,4-5; James 1:17-18,21b-22,27; Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
Today’s readings tell us about three important concepts: divine wisdom, biblical justice and God’s commandment. Together, they explain the Christian life.
In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses tells Israel that “this great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.” He is not talking about their IQ. Rather, Moses is declaring that they are wise because God has shared with them the statutes and decrees they need to follow to be a great nation. These statutes and decrees are the way that God shares divine wisdom with Israel. This is a grace by which Israel is able to think like God does, and that is what makes them great — when they live according to that wisdom. But recall Jesus’ words to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because you are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings do.” We always have the freedom either to accept or to reject this grace of divine wisdom.
But if we accept this gift of divine wisdom it changes the way we view life. If we think “as human beings do,” we think of ourselves first. It’s the law of self-preservation. But divine wisdom enables us to think of others as much as we think of ourselves. This view of the world is known as ‘biblical justice.’ Actually it looks more like mercy than justice to those who are used to thinking simply “as human beings do.” This view of the world is the basis for the second great commandment, which states, “Love others as you love yourself.” To share in God’s wisdom is to share in God’s love, and to share in God’s love is to care for others.
Biblical justice was emphasized by the Jesuit priest Walter Burghardt who died in 2008. At the age of 77, he founded a five-day intensive retreat for preachers called “Preaching the Just Word.” How well he was qualified for this work was recognized when he was chosen as one of the 12 most effective preachers in America. Father Burghardt was able to present 125 of these retreats, touching the lives of more than 7,500 preachers, before his death at age 93.
He claimed that there was never a set of Sunday readings in which one could not discover themes of biblical justice. Having spent his adult life focusing on this topic, he summed up the difference between biblical justice and human justice in this way: Human justice is giving people what they deserve; biblical justice is giving people what they need.
DOERS OF THE WORD
In the second reading James calls us to be “doers of the word and not hearers only.” So it’s not enough to share in divine wisdom and have the world view of biblical justice. We’re called to do something about it. Otherwise, as Jesus warns us in the Gospel, “we’ll disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” In other words, we might have good intentions, but we still may turn out like Peter.
The Responsorial Psalm presents us with a catalog of ways we can apply God’s commandment. And note, Jesus refers to just one commandment, not to many commandments. He’s referring to God’s great commandment, again. He’s calling us to lay down our lives for others.
So if divine wisdom, biblical justice and God’s commandment sum up the Christian life, why do we do such a poor job of putting it into practice? In the Gospel, Jesus himself provides a partial list of reasons for this failure: “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, etc.” I say ‘partial’ because I think Father Burghardt might add at least one more reason for the failure of Christianity, and that would be fear. He reminded us that “courage is not the absence of fear. It is feeling afraid to do something but finding the strength to do it.” May we all find that strength.
Father R. Michael Schaab is a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria who gives retreats and days of recollection, and fills in as presider at parish Masses on weekends. He resides on a hobby farm in Putnam County.