22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – August 29, 2021
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15:2-5; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
All the Externals Can Be Fine, but…
I don’t know if you remember the show, but there was this show called Extreme Makeover. It got cancelled a long time ago, it is not very P.C. But it was this show where people would—they’d go through a boot camp of exercise for about two days, but then they’d just get liposuction and a bunch of plastic surgery and they would be “beautiful” again or something. Yeah, it was weird. But that’s where the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition came from: “Move that bus!” They were like, “Let’s just do houses. That’s way more P.C. Just fix up people’s houses.”
Or there is the story of anyone that has ever won the lottery ever. It’s like, “Oh wow! This person’s life is transformed and it’s much better now!” Until you do the follow-up research and you find out that like 90 plus percent of people that win the lottery—their life just falls into utter ruin. And they go bankrupt, suicide, murder, just everything—it’s awful. Like, winning the lottery is pretty much the worst thing that could happen to you.
But again, in all of these things—pick your own examples—but in all of these things what happens is all the externals in someone’s life change; everything “gets better.” But the person hasn’t changed one bit. Right? We know that. That if all the externals change—that’s great. But that person is still the same person that couldn’t manage money to begin with. It’s still the same person that that couldn’t stay on a diet to begin with. And so it’s just it all falls apart. Fixing external things, cosmetic improvements are “easy.” But true, deep, lasting personal transformation…that’s not. Jesus comes along preaching transformation.
Transformation, not Cosmetic Improvement
Jesus comes along and preaches “transformation.” He doesn’t preach how things are going to get better externally or something, no. He says a true transformation is going to come about.
There is this one prayer during Easter that comes up time and time again—and I know, we don’t pay much attention to the prayers at Mass, we get caught in the routine, we listen for “through Christ our Lord” so we can say “Amen”—but there is one of the prayers that says, “O God, who have made us partakers of the one supreme godhead.” It’s like, oh my goodness. That’s what’s going on. We’ve become partakers in the supreme godhead, we share in the life of God himself. This is not something external, this is a deep transformation.
Every Mass—and this prayer is said quietly so you don’t hear it—but during the Mass, when I pour the wine and water into the chalice, I say: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Wowza. Sharing in the divinity of Christ! That’s transformative language there. This should completely blow our minds.
This is what it’s all about. All of it. The Fathers of the Church had a quick and pithy way of summing this up: Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus. God became man so that man might become God. And this is not a new plan! Adam and Eve didn’t mess up in the garden and then God decided to make things better and give us more, no. This was the plan from the very beginning! The goal from the beginning was for all mankind to share in the eternal life of God (i.e., the divine life) and this is what is restored to us in Israel’s Messiah King, Jesus.
One of my favorite stories to tell is about these two monks who lived a long time ago in the desert (called the desert fathers). And one day the young monk goes to the old monk and says, “I say my prayers, I fast, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, I purify my thoughts. But I feel like I’m missing it. What else can I do?” [And that’s us. We have all of our external things we do.] Then the old monk stand up, and hold this hands like this, and fire starts to pour out of his hands. And he says, “If you will, you can become all flame” (c.f., The Sayings of the Desert Fathers). What is he saying? You can have fire-powers? No. He’s saying you could be transformed! A true transformation could come about in you! If you would hand over everything to the Lord, allow him to work through you—instead of thinking, “Well, did I pray seven rosaries today?”
But again, what happens? We get caught up on the externals. “So we fast on Fridays? So we don’t fast on Fridays? How many rosaries a day do I have to pray?” Uh, we’re missing it. This is what Jesus is getting at, in part, in our Gospel today. The Pharisees and scribes are asking him about all of these external laws and rules and regulations, and how the disciples aren’t following them. And Jesus is just like, “Ugh, you’re missing it. Well did Isaiah prophesy…This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 7:6). It’s not about paying lip-service to God! There is something deeper, our heart, our very being itself that Jesus is going after.
The Heart: In Need of Transformation
And the heart, the human heart is in need of this transformation and renewal. It needs it! Desperately needs it! They tried the laws and rules and regulations—we still do to this day. But as Jesus points out, the problem isn’t the rules, or that people need to try harder. Jesus’ point is that there is a problem much deeper than washing your hands. There is a fundamental brokenness in the human heart. “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).
This goes all the way back to the garden of Eden, we’ve talked about this. People had access to the Tree of Life, a tree that would make people sharers in God’s own life and power. But instead, they chose the Tree of Good and Bad—they chose to do what was right and wrong in their own eyes. And when we do that, we know what happens. When we just do whatever we want, it leads to broken relationships, violence, and death. When we start with the evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, pride, foolishness—when we start down that road, we know how it ends up. In the time of Israel, it got so bad, people’s hearts were so corrupt, Jeremiah watched a generation of Israelites start the practice of child sacrifice. There is something wrong at the level of our hearts.
The Power of Transformation Flows from the Kingdom
This is why Jesus arrives on the scene, and this is why he arrive not trying to teach us better rules, not to enforce the Ten Commandments. Jesus arrives to transform our hearts, our very selves, our life—to give us His own life, to have us share in his own human-divine life. And what does he say? “The Kingdom of God is at hand!” The power to transform us does not come from ourselves, from following the rules—the power to be transformed is a gift, it is given, it arrives in a person, it arrives in Jesus Christ.
Only the Kingdom of God has the power to transform our hearts. Purity laws, commandments, rules—they’re there for a reason, they’re important. But they don’t fix our problem. They’re too external. And the issue we face is an issue of the heart.
Transformed: So That We Might Embody His Presence
And before this turns into some “self-help” knock-off, some self-improvement seminar—just remember where we’re at, what we’re doing. We come here to Mass and partake in the Eucharist. Like we’ve been talking the past several weeks: not just a magic vitamin that takes us to heaven when we’re dead, no. Jesus’ flesh and blood, his soul and divinity—we become sharers in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
The power of the Kingdom broke in through Jesus—the human-divine Jesus—and now it will continue to break in through us—us, we who share in his divinity. That should just blow our minds. The Kingdom of God broke into this world first through flesh and blood: through the incarnation, through God becoming Man, through Jesus. Mind you, not through laws, but through a person.
The power of this Kingdom will continue to break in through flesh and blood—but this time through ours, through the flesh and blood of the Church, through the baptized, through the people transformed by sharing in his body and blood, sharing in his Spirit. God, the work he wants to do, the fruit he wants to bear in the world, he is going to do it through us, through us who share in the life of his Son, share in the life of Christ. Through our renewed and transformed hearts, we will bear the fruit of the Spirit: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. And people like that, communities like that, are the people that the Lord will work through to renew and transform the world.