- About us
- Online retreat
- Message Board
- Podcasts & videos
- Bring the Good News
- Everyone Loves A Wedding
- Light Brings Joy
- What is Cathlics on Call? A Perspective from a Recent Participant
That You May Live: A Word to Wanderers
by Amy Nee Walker | August 29, 2012
Scripture Reflection for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sunday, September 2, 2012)
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Life is immensely complex, touching many dimensions. We are forever confronted with the existential questions of how to live, how to be in right relationship (as that appears to be an inescapable aspect of existence), how to build and sustain a just society. And, as Christians, we have the added question that envelopes these, how to dwell in continual communion with our loving Creator?
Given the immensity of it all, our brain tends to take one aspect, one little nugget of revelation, whether spiritual or intellectual, or otherwise, and run with it. The pairing of today’s scriptures graciously suggests that we would do well to slow down, look around, and take in a fuller view of what it means to find a dwelling place where we might truly live.
In the beginning, God called out: called the universe out of nothing, called humanity out of clay, called Noah out of a society that had turned to destructive ways, called Abraham out from his family’s house, called Moses and the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. This was the way to be with God. These were the faithful, the righteous and those whose generations were promised preservation. The promised people, ever on the move, until one day God gives this people a promised land.
Now these people, who have developed a special sense of kinship with this God whose vitality to their existence was obvious in the scarcity of the desert, are being given a particular place to live. A place! There they will be able to build communities and cultivate the land. Ironically, however, there is great potential for calamity that accompanies moving from scarcity to abundance (remember, they are going from daily doses of manna to the land that flows with milk and honey!). God will no longer be doling out life’s directions and provision through Moses and miracles. Instead, on the cusp of their entering this new life, God forbids Moses to accompany them and gives them a new guide, teaching them to observe “statutes and rules (Deut. 4:1),”that they “may live.” Essentially, God is teaching a program for remaining in one place and building a society in which people care for each other, are good stewards of the land, and maintain a special relationship with the God of their ancestors. A society that will be known to the world as one of wisdom and understanding, uniquely near to God who responds to their needs (4:6-7).
Psalm 15 follows with the theme of dwelling. Though, while the language is still quite solid and tangible, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent…dwell on your holy hill?” Another angle is emphasized. The place this person remains is only a vague introductory line, while the way of being that allows this life in God’s presence is carefully articulated with specific requirements –Doing right, speaking truth, avoiding slander, not going back on promises (even the ones that hurt to keep!), never charging interest, never taking a bribe – to name a few. The realm of being has shifted from regional to moral. And while the promised dwelling is with God, the moral behaviors are primarily about how this person treats others.
James reveals yet another variation by drawing our attention to the character of God, whom he indicates is “without variation or shadow due to change” (Jas. 1:17). Though all else might change, God’s Presence, God’s way of Being is constant. God is the ultimate locus, the everlasting promised land, where we might always remain, wherever we may go. And once again, the guidelines that allow us to arrive and remain come in the form of the gift of the law, “the law of liberty” (Jas. 1:25).
In the gospel reading from Mark, Jesus does not address the idea of a dwelling place so much as the way to dwell. That is, how to understand and apply the statutes and rules God gifted and the Jewish people preserved over time. “There is nothing outside a person that can defile that person,” Jesus explains, “but the things that come out of a person are what defile…” Externals are inherently inconstant. They matter, but they pass away. Matters of the heart abide and what comes out from the heart – “theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, slander” – are what has a lasting impact. Notice too that these are all things that delude and defile our own lives and that detrimentally damage our relationships. Hence the importance of the law, the law of life and liberty, as revealed by God. It is God’s gift to beloved humans, letting us in on a holy secret, “This is how the universe – which I happen to have an insider’s understanding of – works!” This is natural law, not made to diminish our freedom but to sustain its purity. It is a foundation for just society that people might dwell together in the land and maintain abiding, reverent, relationship with God, the earth and each other.
 Directly quoted scripture references are taken from the New English Standard Version.
Amy Nee Walker
Amy is a 2010 Catholics on Call alumna. She was a student at Loyola University in Chicago taking classes in Pastoral Studies. She now is married and lives at the Maryhouse Catholic Worker in New York.