Sunday Scripture: Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Welcome to this, the seventh of my reflections on the theology of the Sunday readings at Mass. I am going to be away for a couple of days this week and so have worked hard to try and prepare something before I depart. This has meant I have not been able to pray and reflect as much as usual over the readings (which is a shame), but at least I have something up nice and early for you. As a suggestion, it might be useful to read Mark 7:1-23 through, as this week's Gospel does miss out some interesting bits, notably the evangelist's editorial comment in 7:19 that all foods are clean. For a bit more on this and the conflict between ritualism and the law, you might like to read this earlier post of mine.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I sincerely hope that this reflection will inspire you and help you to see how fantastic Sacred Scripture is and perhaps begin to share some of my love and passion for the Bible, as you begin to comprehend how layered and multi-faceted, and what a carefully considered part of the Mass the readings are. If you want to know how these posts came about, please read my first post in this series here.

This Sunday the theme for the readings might be summed up as:

The Commandments of Life

The readings are:
  • Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
  • Psalm: 14:2-5; Response: v. 1
  • Second Reading: James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
  • Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
First, a little preliminary survey of each of the books.

I will post the same, or similar prelims week on week, for each book as we encounter them. This week I have added a bit of detail on the First Reading from the book of Joshua as I thought it brought up some very interesting issues about how we see violence in the Old Testament.

The Book of Deuteronomy bears the title Haddebharim in Hebrew meaning 'the words' (1:1) and indicating the central contents of this book: three long speeches by Moses (1:1-4:43; 4:44-26:19; & 27-34) to prepare Israel for the conquest and inhabitance of the promised land. The speeches address the people in an "I—You" language of person-to-person discourse. It is existential; it puts us on the spot by challenging us to enter into covenant with the LORD now.

Deuteronomy is the last will and testament of Moses. His speeches in the first four sections follow the outline of a covenant renewal programme, beginning with a historical prologue recounting God's faithfulness to the Israelites throughout their wilderness journey (1:1-4:43) followed by a presentation of the general laws of the covenant (4:44-26:19), and the specific precepts deriving from the laws (12:1-26:19), concluding the speeches with the rites of the covenant renewal at Moab. The final section of the book brings to a conclusion the Pentateuch as a whole by communication Moses' last words and account of his death (31:1-34:12).

Psalms is the Bible's manual of inspired song and prayer. The collection of 150 Psalms represents the culmination of a long tradition that extends across almost the full span of the history of ancient Israel, from the Exodus (c. 1280 B.C.) until the last centuries of the Old Testament era (c. 200 B.C.). In Hebrew the canon of the Bible is called the TNK or Tanakh, which consists of Torah (teaching), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (writings)—thus TaNaKh. Psalms makes up the first of the writings in the Hebrew text. One of the most powerful things we know about the Psalms is that this is how Jesus Himself prayed.

The Letter of St. James, was written not to a single congregation but to "the twelve tribes in the Dispersion" (1:1). This may refer to Hebrew Christians who were exiled from Palestine and had settled throughout the Mediterranean world. This living situation beyond the borders of Israel was known in Jewish tradition as Dispersion, or Diaspora. Others read this as a reference to the universal Church, the family of Christian Jews and Gentiles who together formed "the Israel of God" (Gal 6:16).

James' letter is an amalgam of literary themes, it is full of maxims and practical advice about living. It is not primarily doctrinal and does not have a systematic outline. It does have a unifying theme, however, which is "Be doers of the word, and not hearers." (1:22)

The Gospel According to St. Mark is widely accepted as the earliest Gospel, written before 70 A.D. in Rome for Gentile believers by a disciple of Simon Peter who Peter refers to as "my son Mark" (1 Pet 5:13). Mark was also notably an associate of the apostle Paul (Acts 12:25; 15:37). He is the cousin of the missionary Barnabus according to Col 4:10. Tradition states that after the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, Mark was the first to establish churches in Alexandria in northern Egypt. Mark's Gospel is the shortest, and the fastest moving and paints a picture of Jesus that is vivid and dynamic, focusing most of his attention on Jesus' mighty works.

Drawing them all together...

"Lord, what must I do to be saved?" is the question we ask repeatedly. In ancient times the pilgrims to Jerusalem would ask the same question, "Lord, who shall be admitted to your tent?" outside the Temple, and the priests would give them the answer: v. 2 of the Psalm is a description in summary of the just life: "He who does no wrong to his brother, who casts no slur on his neighbour, who holds the godless in disdain, but honours those who fear the Lord." This just life is based not on philosophy, but on the revelation of God through the ages. He has revealed Himself as a loving God, the One who creates and saves us. In order that His will might be spread to the nations, He gave His people a glimpse into the nature of the one LORD of history in the Law. The ancient Law is a life-giving text, freeing the people from idolatry, superstition, and with new insight and a new wisdom that changes our perception of the world, and gives us the motivation to act (cf. James 1:22). The 'traditions of the elders' (Mk 7:3) refer to religious customs manufactured by the Pharisees and added to the Mosaic Law. Sometimes called the oral Law, this body of rituals was designed to supplement God's written Law and intensify its requirements of ritual purity. These traditions were passed on orally until recorded in the Jewish Mishnah about 200 A.D. In the Gospel this week, the controversy is sparked off by the "unwashed" hands of the disciples (Mk 7:2). The Pharisees charge them, not with poor hygiene, but with religious laxity. Jesus responds with a vigorous attack on these Pharisaic customs because they distract practitioners from the more important principles of the Mosaic Law (7:8-9). That is, they emphasise the dangers of ritual impurity (on the hands) to the neglect of moral defilement (in the heart) defined by the commandments (7:20-23). In the end, these traditions promoted by the elders are examples of merely human tradition that the Pharisees have wrongly elevated to an equal level with the revealed Law of God (CCC 581). St. James tells us how to express our faith in a dynamic outreach that contradicts the expectations of the world "My brothers, try not to combine faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified LORD, with the making of distinctions between classes of people." We must testify to God's inclusive love, and so proclaim the Kingdom which He promised to those who love Him.


Magnificat Monthly Vol. 2, No. 12/ September 2012.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Edition RSV, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2001.
Letellier, R., Sunday & Feastday Sermons Cycles A, B, and C, New York: St. Pauls, 2011.
Kreeft, P., You Can Understand The Bible, San Francisco, Ignatius, 2005.
McKenzie, J.L., Dictionary of the Bible, New York, Touchstone, 1995.
Duggan, M., The Consuming Fire, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991.
Fuller, R.C., Johnstone, L., Kearns, C., A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, London: Nelson, 1969.

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