22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
It is all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with him, there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change. By his own choice he made us his children by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all that he had created.
Accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.
Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.
There are 2 wonderful lessons in this Sunday’s 2nd reading – one that teaches about God, and the other that forces us to reflect on how we respond to God.
God gave humanity everything it needed, and we still wanted more. The First Humans were given paradise and wanted to change God’s plan – they wanted to know even that God told them not to. God gave us “all that is good, everything that is perfect”. God who has “no shadow of a change“, created a creation that reflected himself that if left as instructed, would reflect His perfection.
But yet, despite that, he gave, through Jesus, redemption and opportunity for salvation. And, 2000 ago, James – the writer of today’s 2nd reading – was one of the “first-fruits” of that salvation, that “new creation”. But then – God created us with Free Will. The same free will that humanity used to lose perfection has to be engaged to gain salvation. Yes, James says, we must “Accept and submit to the word [of God]”, but that, while necessary, is not sufficient. We must not only hear the word but “do what the word tells you“. It is not enough to simply know; we must also do.
The Church often comes in for criticism because for some (including some of our fellow Christians) it is seen as too prescriptive – too wedded to the traditions and practices of the past. But, at the same time – the Church is the guardian of the faith, our Bishops and Priests our guides in our faith. And there are times where Christ in Scripture, or the Church acting under its teaching authority given to it by Christ, give us clear red lines to follow – and if we are willingly, obstinately and without good reason fail to follow them, we must ask ourselves, if we remain truly ‘Catholic’.
The concept of a ‘Cultural Catholic’ is common in the West of Scotland – where we may not go to Mass, or receive the Eucharist or go to confession, but are more than happy to tick a box every 10 years, or claim a history or identity because of the school we attended. We are those James warns us against when he tells us “…not just listen to [the word] and deceive yourselves”. Equally, in our everyday lives, we are demanded to clothe the naked; give to the poor; care for the sick – they are not optional activities, but commands from Jesus Christ himself. If we are not thinking about these – or worse, if we consciously try and avoid our responsibilities – then we equally fail to live up to St. James’s standard “…coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it”.
If we, as Catholics, do not stand up for the poorest, the most vulnerable, the most easily ignored and forgotten – in our communities, at our work, and in our families – then we have become ‘contaminated by the world. Christianity, Catholicism even more so, is not a religion of belief and law alone – it is a religion of action.
Christianity, properly lived, is a radical proposition.