22nd Sunday of OT:
This is one of those weeks where our readings are speaking to us about morality. Morality is the way we live our lives as disciples of Jesus. James exhorts us in the second reading: be doers of the word and not hearers only. The word of God is living and active. Rather than being something that can be grabbed and possessed, the Word of God grabs and possesses us, it spurs us on to action. We hear the word of God and we want to put it into practice.
Sounds good so far, right? Hear the word of God and put it into practice by living a moral life. But, there can often be a bit of a disconnect between faith and life. We hear about Jesus, we believe in him, we want to be his disciples, we understand that living the moral life is what this means. Then what do we get? It seems like we get a bunch of rules and regulations. We want to follow Jesus, and we get a list of things we are not supposed to do: thou shalt not this, that, and the other thing. Whether it is the 10 commandments, the moral teachings of the gospel, or something from the Catechism, it seems to outline a bunch of stuff we are not allowed to do.
And, maybe it is just me, but doesn't it seem like God looked at the human heart, found all the things we really want to do, then made commandments against it? Don't we love to speak ill of our neighbor: can't do it, that's gossip. Don't we just love to be angry at our enemies: can't do it, we are supposed to love our enemies. Don't we just love to indulge in any kind of pleasurable thing: can't do it, that is lust, or greed, or gluttony. It seems like we are stuck in some cosmic tug of war. On the one hand there is the moral code, and on the other, there are the inclinations of our hearts set in opposition. So, for many of us, life becomes a matter of trying to dodge the sin we might desire in our hearts. It is almost as if sin were potholes in the road: if we can just make it down the street without hitting any of the major potholes we will be ok. But, this is a crazy way to live life. And this is not what morality is supposed to be about. Morality is not a matter of avoiding sin. Rather, it's about living life to the full.
Listen again to the words from Deuteronomy: hear the statutes and decrees (why? So that life will be miserable and you will be prone to fail? No) so that you may live, and may enter and take possession of the land. I find that so beautiful, hear the statutes and decrees so that you may live. God gives us the commandments through Christ and the Church not because he wants us to struggle and fail, but because he wants us to be happy and blessed. We were not made for sin! We were made to be holy, to be with God, to live.
But, what about our sinful inclinations: today Christ labels it so well, there is a bunch of junk that can pour out of our hearts: evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, etc. We have inherited original sin, we are prone to fall. But, Christ came to help us. Through grace, we can be healed, maybe not totally in this life. Christ came to set us free, he came to purify our minds and our hearts. Jesus did not come simply to give us a new set of rules and regulations; rather, he came to set us free. He does this especially through the sacraments. When we are baptized, confirmed, when we receive communion, confess our sins, when we are anointed, when you got married, when I got ordained, the grace of God is at work within us, making us more like Christ, healing us down to our hearts.
So the moral life was not given to us to make us miserable. It is a guide to true human fulfillment. While our hearts are set in opposition to the law, Christ came to set us free. We cannot lose hope. Christ came to renew and transform us, Christ came to heal our hearts, so that a life of discipleship is not one of misery, but one of joy. Right here in this Holy Eucharist Christ pours his life out for us, as we receive his body and blood, he can transform us, heal us, set us free so that we can live and be with him in that promised land that awaits us.