HOMILY & IDEAS

Dt 4:1-2, 6-8;James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mt 7, 1-8, 14-15, 21-23..

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas lay underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed hands. For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the traditions of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things they they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him -- Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands? Jesus responded -- Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written -- This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard the commandment of God but cling to human tradition.

If you have ever had trouble flying out of an airport or renting a car chances are that you have laughed out loud while watching the movie -- Planes, Trains, and Automobiles -- starring Steve Martin and the late John Candy. Almost everyone I have mentioned this movie to this past week has seen some if not all of it. It is becoming a classic. Another movie I have been thinking about this past week is -- Good Will Hunting -- starring Matt Damon and Robin Williams.

Scenes from each of these movies mirror somewhat the attitude of Jesus toward the Pharisees and Scribes. I am thinking of the scene in Trains and Automobiles when the character that John Candy plays unknowingly drives onto a multilane freeway going in the wrong direction. A young couple driving in the same direction -- but on the other side of steel guard rail -- frantically motions to them that they are going the wrong way. They even try to yell over to the vehicle in which Steve Martin and John Candy are driving; but they can not make out what the young couple is yelling. In fact, John Candy suggests to Steve Martin that they have been drinking and are simply harassing them.

I also thought of the scene in which the character played by Matt Damon -- Will Hunting, and the psychologist played by Robin Williams are beginning a counseling session. Matt Damon looks at all of the books on the bookshelves against the walls of the room and comments -- You are reading the wrong books (He added a word to this sentence for emphasis -- but it probably would not go over to well in your homily).

In a sense, Jesus is looking at the Pharisees and Scribes and thinking -- You are going the wrong way. You are reading the wrong books.

There are lots of confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees in scripture and Jesus always comes out on top. The Pharisees publicly challenge Jesus hoping to shame Him by cornering Him with a charge that they believe is indefensible. Now we have got Him -- they are thinking. Nevertheless, Jesus is way ahead of them. He comes out swinging with an insult -- Hypocrites! Jesus then creatively quotes scripture from Isaiah and refocuses the confrontation by completely changing the subject from the WAY someone eats to WHAT they eat. The Pharisees are going the wrong way. They are reading the wrong books -- or at least reading the right books in the wrong way.

Law must be rooted in the love of God and be an expression of it. It is very easy to get lost in the details or caught up in the robotic repetition of following the law or ritual. It need not even be done deliberately. It is a slippery slope. How many times have I walked into a church with my hand habitually dipping into the font of Holy Water with which to cross myself. I walk further, genuflect to the tabernacle, slide into my pew, rattle off a few of my favorite prayers, zone out for a while, automatically respond at the appropriate times -- And also with you -- Amen -- Thanks be to God -- And also with you -- Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ -- Amen -- And also with you -- We lift them up to the Lord -- It is right to give Him thanks and praise -- etc.

Or worse, perhaps, judging other people by what they might wear to Church, where they might sit, how they conduct themselves in the communion line, how they receive communion, how long they pray -- etc.

Have you ever gotten caught up in those actions or thoughts in your lifetime? Have you caught yourself going the wrong way or reading the wrong books?

This week Jesus asks us to get our hearts in the right place -- to think about what we are doing in worship and to ask ourselves why we are doing it. We are to get back to the basics of the law and ritual so that they can be clearly observed as being rooted in the love of God and seen to be expressions of it.

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