Homily notes for 2021 Social Justice Sunday
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 14 (15):2-5; James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
29 August 2021
The readings for this Sunday challenge people to live in a way that actively expresses right relationship according to God’s law. God’s true moral law is not concerned with external acts of ritual purity, worldly standards, or social appearances. God’s law offers an integrated interior life that grounds and directs outward right living. The way any person interacts with the world directly impacts on the physical and spiritual health of places, creatures, and people. Christians are called to do the inner work of the heart that leads to a way of living that joyfully gives and sustains life. This is the opposite of lip service through empty, self-serving words or rules. God invites us to covenant and conversion so that all can be welcomed, valued, and included in faithful, hopeful, and loving communities.
The Social Justice statement reminds us that God has heard the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. God asks us now as modern-day disciples to respond where we are and as we can so that the world can be infused and renewed with God’s justice and mercy. The fruit we bear in what we do should reflect God’s love. We take Christ down from the cross and contribute to resurrection every time we actively care for and protect the suffering earth, creatures, and people in need.
First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
In this reading, Moses reminds the people of Israel that they live and find peace in a covenantal relationship with God: meaningful laws and customs are an invitation to freedom and abundant life. Wisdom is handed down through generations to enable people to live, grow, and flourish. The land is seen as a precious and gracious gift from God, and God is faithful and good. In every generation, we are called to commit to relationships that care for sacred creation. What wisdom will you pass on to the next generation?
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 14:2-5
The psalm acknowledges that justice and truth telling are central to the living of right relationships. This is also equated with kindness. We are called to faithfully follow God’s way of being in the world, and this does not always follow the trends and priorities of society. Remaining faithful to God’s law means staying rooted in truth, wherever that leads. What uncomfortable truth has called you to action for those who suffer?
Second Reading: James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
James is blunt in his call to action: people need to be doers of the word. Listening to the cries of the vulnerable and hurting impels people to respond with compassionate action. God’s law is not a dead letter but has become a person who is alive in Christ. Transformed people offer the promise of new life to the suffering and afflicted by the witness of their lives. What action will you take to answer the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor today?
Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Jesus makes it clear that what corrupts a person does not come from outside but from within. If hearts are shaped by the compassion and generosity of God, they will hear the cries of the afflicted, and act. The heart here is seen as the core of human will and desire. Real disciples do God’s will when they heal and protect those who suffer, despite any worldly cost or false standard. Jesus is the fulfilment of the true law that others have distorted by their greed. In taking more than we need in any sphere of life, balance is disturbed and something or someone is harmed or deprived. God desires all to have enough to live free and full lives. How do you bring God’s Kingdom to birth in the world?
Reflection on the Readings/Homily Points
There are many today who do not accept hard truths, who promote false news, and whose main concern is for their own power, comfort, gain, notoriety, celebrity, image, or profit. Truth is replaced with versions of reality that serve an agenda, or interpretations of events that make people less uncomfortable about their attitudes and choices. People, animals, and the earth can be rationalised as commodities to exploit, use, abuse, and discard. The desire to possess, dominate and consume disrupts the delicate balance and harmony needed to sustain healthy communities and ecosystems. Countries are increasingly referred to as economies, and the values of an often-grasping marketplace push to replace the intrinsic value and uniqueness of each integral part of God’s sacred creation.
A sacramental vision of a dynamically connected, diverse, and inclusive universe is one that is rooted in the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Kingdom and Reign of God. As Christians, we are called to open and form our hearts in this radical and counter-cultural vision that expresses God’s true law as part of a mutual and loving covenant relationship. Moses reminds the people of Israel and us today that there is wisdom and understanding in following God’s law. Those who have opened and shaped their hearts to God’s law of love see, hear, speak, and live the truth of this way of being and acting in the world every day. This contributes to God’s Kingdom breaking through in the here and now.
The psalmist encourages people to stand firm in God’s truth and to act justly in dealing with people in their daily lives, including their business dealings. God’s presence is found in integrated and right relationships with people, characterised by detachment from material gain, especially when it comes at the hurt and expense of others. This psalm highlights an ongoing temptation in our world for people to seek material riches and social advantage as false markers of blessedness and success. God is not interested in status as defined by worldly standards but completely subverts and rejects any system or behaviour that seeks to exploit, disadvantage, or harm anyone or anything.
James gets to the heart of things in calling people to listen to the God who dwells within them and to take action to defend those most defenceless and vulnerable as a visible marker of their true identity in Christ. God’s goodness never changes and never ends. We are called to embrace and foster this in ourselves, doing our part to come to the aid of all who most need our help. God has created each with purpose and value, just as they are.
Jesus calls out the hypocrisy and self-serving behaviour of anyone, especially leaders, who would seek to absolve themselves from the real work of conversion of heart and life. Hiding behind the details of traditions, rules, and the finer points of external rituals alone is not what is called for in faithfully following Christ. Our beautiful Christian traditions, prayers, liturgies, and rituals point us to the gift and glory of God and God’s beloved creation. Our faith is built on who we are following, what we believe, and how we relate to others in Christ. Relationships of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness are direct encounters with God’s amazing grace alive and active in our hearts and lives. This is where we are asked to focus, and to live.
To read the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s 2021-22 Social Justice Statement, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, click here.
With thanks to the ACBC Office for Justice, Ecology and Peace.