Sunday August 29th, 2021 the 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
The tie in between today’s readings: There is No Liberty Without God
Have you ever wondered what a Theocracy under God would look like? In today’s Old Testament reading, Deuteronomy 4: 1-8, God is preparing His people to take possession of the Promised Land. They have a priesthood to worship Him and His law to guide them with prophets and judges to maintain order. There is no legislature because God is their king. If each person sticks with the framework, they will not only posses their inheritance promised by God, but they will live in a society whose shared moral code is outlined in Psalm 15. He is setting up Israel to become a beacon to the world. Israel will be great because Israel will be good to the glory of God, as long as they can avoid incidences like the one at Baal-peor.
Baal-peor is the culmination of a very interesting story between a sorcerer named Balaam and Balak the Moabite king (Numbers 22-25). Essentially, a Moab/Midianite coalition would not be able to defeat the Israelite army in the field. Balaam suggested a plan to destroy Israel from within by corrupting the worship of Jehovah with Baal worship. The plan worked very well. The leadership got sucked into the trap and many of the people followed. In a Theocracy, this is tantamount to high treason. God slew 24,000 of His own people and declared war on Midian to finish them off for their treachery in the matter. Throughout the Old Testament, God takes dramatic and decisive actions against idolatry and sin because it strikes at the heart of a shared moral code necessary for a free society. Without it, a nation descends into chaos, totalitarianism, and destruction as Israel eventually does.
“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it” (Deut. 4:2a). In Mark’s gospel, Jesus confronts the Pharisee’s lip service to God’s law. The traditions of men, such as keeping the Sabbath, or ritual washing, add to God’s words with a veneer of misguided righteousness. Their teachings about divorce and Corban use a little lawyerly slight-of-hand to nullify the intent of scripture. Unlike the open rebellion of idolatry, these are a hidden contempt for the Almighty. God is not mocked. Even today, we play these games with Him. God hates an empty “go through the motions” religion, transforming worship into a clueless chore done out of duty. He also despises the replacement of sound doctrine with our uninformed self-speculations. As in ancient Israel, both are a breeding ground for sin and undermine the shared moral code. Our practical idolatry with worldly things and our lack of concern with Biblical teachings has brought us to the point where we are asking the question: “Is there anything wrong with anything?” We need to take a good look at ourselves.
Isaiah 5:20-24 New International Version (NIV)
20 Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight.
22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine
and champions at mixing drinks,
23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
but deny justice to the innocent.
24 Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw
and as dry grass sinks down in the flames,
so their roots will decay
and their flowers blow away like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty
and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.
A free society starts with the individual. In James 1: 17-27, today’s epistle, he compares the word of God to a mirror. Lip service people give a casual glance into God’s looking glass, disregard their unflattering reflection, and turn away unchanged. Preferring sin, morality breaks down and bedlam ensues. Society gives up freedom for order. A strong centralized government arises, which will threaten all established rights or worse. We need to be the people who intently look at God’s word and conform to it. James calls it the perfect law of liberty. “If the Son shall set you free, you shall be indeed free” (John 8:36). So now it comes full circle. God’s implanted word in my life will transform me into a Psalm 15 kind of person, who loves God and neighbor. Belief in the God of the Bible creates the Church, which fosters a culturally shared moral code. This moral code acts as a law unto itself and keeps society together without the need of a police state. We can be free because we are good. This is not the current situation in our country. We are losing our common moral code. But it’s not too late. God has given a way back:
2 Chronicles 7:14 New International Version (NIV)
14 if My people who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.