THE LOVERS OF YOUR LAW: A HOMILY ON THE 22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B, BY FR. HENRY NWOKORO CSsR, CORNATIONVILLE
Psalm 118, which in some bibles is psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the bible with 176 verses. Interestingly, the shortest chapter of the whole bible is psalm 116 which in some bibles is 117. The middle of the whole bible is Psalm 117 which in some bibles is 118. This means that the shortest chapter in the bible is followed by the middle of the whole bible, which is followed by the longest chapter in the bible. The middle verse of the whole bible is Psalm 117(118):8 and 9 which is the same as the number of all the chapters in the bible, namely 1189. This is like saying that Psalm 118:9 is the summary of the whole bible. What exactly does it say: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in Princes”.
Whenever we consider anything important, we make laws around it in order to preserve and protect it. But when the law becomes too much, it does not only fail to protect what it was meant to protect, but even renders it vulnerable. That is why we are told not to add to the law.
JESUS AND THE LAW
At that time: When the Pharisees gathered together to Jesus, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups, and pots and vessels of bronze.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast to the tradition of men.”
And he called the people to him again, and said to them, “Hear me, all of you and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man:
This problem exist even in our days today. We set aside God’s commandment and we are more faithful to human traditions. We legalize things that are against God’s commandment. But we should remember that it is one thing for something to be legal as declared by the government, and it is another thing for it to be right according to the commandment of God. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man (no matter who).
The whole idea of washing hands and pots is about cleanliness, and we live in a generation of healthy living. Today we are told it is healthy to eat eggs. Tomorrow we are told it is not. People live on different kinds of diets, do different kinds of exercises and observe different rules, and O how FAITHFUL we are to these rules, because we want to be healthy and we want to live long. Jesus is letting us know that unhealthy food will only kill us physically, but unhealthy relationship with God, a sinful heart will kill us eternally. If we can be as faithful to our spiritual wellbeing as we are our physical wellbeing, the world will be a better place. If we can be active in church as we are in virgin active, the church will bloom. We believe the doctors and dieticians when they tell us that certain food will kill us. How much do we believe the word of God which tells us that evil thoughts, fornication, theft, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness, will kill us. We fear we may not live up to 90 or 100, but how much do we fear eternal death. It is better to take refuge in the Lord, than to trust in man (doctors, dieticians, physiotherapists, psychotherapists) etc. How much do we believe the psalm which tells us that to live for all eternity we are to be without fault and do what is just; we should always speak the truth and not slander people. We should do good to others and hate what is evil. We should not defraud people or be accomplice to any evil plot against someone else. Jesus is letting us know that to live in this way is more unhealthy than what we call unhealthy by human standard of diet. We live on diets that will keep us alive for 100 years and forget the diet that will keep us alive for all eternity.
WHEN THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW IS DEFEATED
Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Now, O Israel, give heed to the statutes and the ordinances which I teach you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, gives you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. “Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is that that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?”:
It will be good to go through Psalm 118(119), the longest chapter of the bible, which is dedicated completely to what it means to keep God’s commandment. Here we are told that we will possess the land, not just in heaven but even on earth. Sin destroys the world, but righteousness preserves it. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. All the human laws supporting abortion and other things contrary to the word of God will cause great suffering in the world. Psalm 118(119):165 says “The lovers of your law have great peace”. Can I describe myself as a lover of God’s law? It is not about just keeping it because God says so, but loving it, because it is the best way to live. To love it because keeping it is to my own advantage. In Psalm 118(119):98-99 it says “Your command has made me wiser than my enemies…I have more understanding than all my teachers”. Amazing. A truly wise person is someone who have found the treasure hidden in God’s commandment. This is why verse 72 says “The law of your mouth is more precious to me than silver and gold”. The Law of God is a very precious gift, because it makes us truly great. True greatness is in keeping God’s command.
REVERENCE FOR THE LAW
My dearest brethren: Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world:
The word of God is described in Psalm 118(119):105 as a lamp to the feed. This means that in the world we live in darkness, and without the word of God we stumble and fall. It is good to save our bodies, but it is even more important to save our souls. This is done by keeping God’s commandments. At the end of the gospel the priest kisses the gospel. This is an expression of affection on behalf of the church as great lovers of what the word says. If we love it we will show it by doing it. It is our actions that show we are lovers of God’s law. We are to care for others especially the less privileged and not allowing our lives to be dictated by the world. The word of God should dictate our life and lifestyle. It should be the lamp which which we find our way through life, without which we stumble and fall. The Lovers of the law of God have great peace. If we think of how difficult it is to obey certain commandments, we will wonder how we can love it. But we are told in Psalm 118(119):103 that the promises of God are sweeter than honey. We will never know the meaning of sweetness until we fall in love with the word of God. The word of God may not seem appealing before we start living by it. But the moment we abandon human opinions and begin to order our way according to the word of God, we will begin to know the true meaning of sweetness. This is what it means to fall in love with God’s law and we can describe ourselves as lovers of God’s law. THE LOVERS OF GOD’S LAW HAVE GREAT PEACE.