In the readings for Sunday, Sept. 2, God tells us that religion, if it’s not done properly, can become a problem.
by Jen Schlameuss-Perry
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?
The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.
James 1:17-18, 21B-22, 27
Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
“You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
You can read the full text of this Sunday’s readings here:
Beware overly religious people! That’s one of the many lessons in today’s readings. But, how can anyone be overly religious? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? No. Zealous faithfulness is good. People who are so consumed with the strictness of religion so that it obscures their relationship with God is a problem.
Moses told the people to keep the law that God had given them because it’s full of wisdom and will help them live close to God, but if that closeness with God isn’t the result of our living, something’s wrong. James reminds us, too, that the law of God needs to be followed — he tells us to be “doers of the word and not hearers only.” But he also reminds us that religion that is “pure and undefiled before God” means caring for the “orphans and widows” — the vulnerable people in society. If our religion makes us so focused on laws that we ignore the needs of the poorest, most at-risk people (the Jewish Scriptures always mention specifically the widows, orphans and aliens), then we’re not acting out of love for God and we’re doing religion wrong.
Mark’s telling of the Gospel story is very telling about who his audience is —he explains in detail the customs of the Jewish people because he’s talking to pagan converts who aren’t familiar with them. This would be important to them because they never had any kosher laws, and no restrictions on what they might eat or how they might eat it. The bigger point is Jesus’ criticism of people who follow rules so carefully but don’t attend to their spiritual life — their relationship with God.
Anytime we put rules before people, or laws before human dignity, we’re wrong. It’s then that our hearts are far from the God who wants to be so close with us.
Why are rules important?
Have you ever met anyone who was very “religious” but wasn’t loving? What was your impression of their belief in God? Do you ever put rules before loving people?
Do I ever run the risk of being overly concerned about laws to the detriment of my care for others? What law do I think is more important than meeting the immediate needs of living, breathing human beings?
Think of a law (or family rule) that you think needs adjusting. If it’s a civil law, contact your representative as a family and tell them why you want it to change.
A little lectio
The ancient practice of prayerfully reflecting on bits of Scripture is known as lectio divina. Want to try it out with your family? Head over to Lectio Divina for Kids to find out how to adapt this prayer practice for your kids.
A little Bible study
Want to do a little Bible study with your kids? Here are some tips:
- During Ordinary Time, the Church pairs the Old Testament and New Testament readings in a way that each sheds light on the other. Ask your kids to look for the common theme connecting the two readings. (Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it is subtle.) How does the “dialogue” between the readings help you understand them better?
- Get a New American Bible, Revised Edition, and take a look at the footnotes for these readings. How do they change your understanding of what is going on?
- Take a look at the context for the readings—what happens before, or after?
- Read the NABRE’s introduction to the book of the Bible that the readings are taken from. How does that help you understand the readings?
- If you don’t have a copy of the NABRE at home, you can view it online at the USCCB website at the Daily Readings web page. (The link will take you to today’s reading; click forward or backward on the dates to get to Sunday’s readings.)
For even more resources for breaking open this Sunday’s readings, head over to The Sunday Website.
The image for Breaking Open the Word at Home is taken from a 17th century illuminated manuscript by an anonymous (but very talented) artist. The text is from the beginning of the Book of Sirach, chapter 1, verses 1-12, which begins: “All wisdom is from the Lord and remains with him forever.”