Reflection on the readings for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 608, James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
While going over the readings for this Sunday I started reflecting on piety and how it is interlaced in these readings so I thought I would look deeper into piety. According to Keith R. Barron piety “…perfects the moral value of religion by engendering within the human person a filial affection for God and a loving regard for all people as fellow children of God.” Harriet A. Luckman lists some of the attributes of piety as “…to denote a type of tenderness, fidelity, reverend, obedient, commitment and affection for one’s family, religion and state.” Further she notes “Piety was made evident by the acts one did to show reverence for God and gain purity of heart. These actions included fasting and abstinence from food, drink, sexual relations and other bodily pleasures. They also included almsgiving, the recitation of prayers, and attendance at the liturgy.” Other acts of piety include visiting pilgrimage sites, special prayers like “Stations of the Cross” family rituals and more. However, piety can be viewed negatively by those observing the pious. Barron points out “The formalistic and legalistic observance of the law, however, sometimes encouraged the projection of a mere façade of piety.”
In our first reading this Sunday from the book of Deuteronomy Moses has given the Hebrews the teachings that was given to him by God. In another translation of this passage these are listed as “statues and ordinances.” He notes these teaching are from wisdom and intelligence and that if the people observed them they will be truly a wise and intelligent people.
In the Gospel Jesus is confronted by some Pharisees and scribes who have observed that Jesus’ disciples do not wash their hands before eating therefore they do not follow the tradition of the elders. It is interesting that this is not a law but a tradition, yet these religious leaders seek to scrupulously follow all the traditions as well as the teachings and ordinances handed down to Moses by God. Jesus response is to say that it is not what goes into the body that is profane but what comes out of the body. These Pharisees and scribes are meticulous about following the outward signs of the law but not the inward signs. Of particular note is the inability of the poor or low level labors in the fields or fisherman to wash their hands before eating.
These inward signs are what St. James calls us to follow in the second reading. He reminds us that it is not enough to be hearers but must be doers of the word. He reminds the readers that God calls all of us to care for the orphans and widows, a phrase that covers all those in need.
When we practice pious actions such as prayers, visiting pilgrimage sites and, most of all, attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist we gain strength to do the works God and St. James call us to do. As it says in the Gospel of St. Matthew, we are called “…to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison.” These are the highest of all pious actions.
Barron, Keith, O.C.D.S (1993) Piety. In The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality (pp. 741-742) Collegeville, The Liturgical Press
Luckman, Harriet A. (2005) Piety. In The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (pp. 491-492) Louisville. Westminster John Knox Press