Homily Ė 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
In the United States we have a well developed sense of Rugged Individualism. We tend to be very independent and do not like people legislating the way we are supposed to live our lives. Our culture has adopted an ethical system which says as long as you donít hurt someone you are free to do what you want. We very much like to be free from limitations and restrictions. For us, freedom means freedom from outside influence.. The freedom to choose what is right and what is wrong is our cultures highest ideal.
This idea of freedom, however, is warped and distorted and not true freedom at all. True freedom is never from something but always for something. That is the freedom that God designed us for and only if we embrace that freedom will we find the happiness we seek. It is here we arrive at an apparent paradox. In order to be truly free we must live according to the laws of God. Thus to be truly free we must restrict ourselves. On the surface it seems like a contradiction. That is what the devil would have you think and that is how he tricked Adam and Even into eating the fruit. But there are certain laws: spiritual, moral and natural we must live by if we are to be happy. Those laws donít change. It is the way God designed us and the universe.
Let me offer you two examples. If I take you to the top of the Empire State Building and show you a fence with a sign that says donít jump it is against the law will you jump? Probably not. But in this case the law is there to protect you from making a bad decision. Now if you are of the freedom from mentality you will see that law as constraining. Who says you canít jump? Now a freedom for mentality will show you that the law is there in order to give you a greater freedom for life. And that, hopefully is what you want. You want freedom for life and for happiness. In the same wayís Godís laws are set up not to limit your freedom but rather to give you rules and guidelines that increase your freedom for life and for happiness.
The second example is that of a seed. If I give you a seed of a fruit tree and I tell you that you should plant it in good soil and water it every day am I constraining your freedom if I give you instructions? Why canít you plant it in concrete if you want to? Well a warped idea of freedom, that is the freedom from rules mentality, will say you can plant it anywhere you want. If you want, you in fact can dig a hole in concrete and plant it there. What I can tell you is that it wonít bear life or fruit. Why? Because that isnít the way the natural law works. If you want the freedom to have a life giving seed and a fruit bearing tree then you must obey the laws God has written for it. True freedom can only come from following Godís laws for the seed. Apart from following Godís laws the seed cannot bear life or fruit.
That is why in the first reading God says ďhear the statues and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your Fathers, is giving you.Ē Why must we obey them? Two reasons: 1 So that we may live. In other words death comes from disobeying them. And 2. So we may gain the inheritance God wants to give us; which is happiness and eternity in heaven.
Godís law does not constrain our freedom but rather increases it. It is a law given to help us have not only life but a life that bears fruit. That is: A life with God, for eternity, in heaven.
Simply believing the seed can bear fruit is not enough though. The seed must be planted and nurtured. We see this in the second reading. The Father of lights ďwilled to give us birth by the word of truth that we might be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.Ē In order to do this we must ďhumbly welcome the word that has been planted in us and is able to save our souls.Ē We do this by being doers of the word and not hearers only. We cannot delude ourselves by thinking it is enough to simply believe the word of God or that his law is good for us. If you believe that the law of God is life giving and can bear fruit in your life but you never put it into practice then it cannot bear fruit and life. Faith alone is not enough. Some will try to tell you that faith alone is all you need: sola fide it is called. Do not be deceived as they are. You can believe them or you can believe the Scriptures. No where in scripture does it say faith alone is enough. Scripture clearly tells us we must have faith as well as works. We must be doers of the word as well as believers in it as it says in our second reading. Later it will say Faith without works is dead. If I believe a medicine can save my life but I never take it then how can I expect it to help me. On the other hand what can I expect if I donít take my medicine when I need it to live a happy, healthy life? I can expect to be sick or even to die. In the same way if God gives us laws that bring us to a happy and fruitful life, yet we donít follow them how can we expect to have a truly happy and fruitful life. Just like someone who refused to take their medicine it would be crazy to expect positive results. It isnít enough simply to believe something works or is right. We must put it into action if we want it to change our lives. That is what our second reading says is religion pure and undefiled.
However do not go to the other extreme either. You cannot buy your way into heaven by doing good deeds. The fruit must come from the seed that is planted and nourished. Anything else is an abomination. That is the mistake that the scribes and Pharisees made in the Gospel. They became so concerned about external practices they miss what is important. ďTheir people honors me with their lips but the but their hearts are far from me.Ē If our faith in the word of God is the seed and the fruit are our good works then the seed must be planted in the good soil of our hearts. Christ clearly says that ďFrom within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft etc. All these evils come from our hearts. If we plant the seed in bad soil we cannot expect it to grow and bear good fruit. It is like the concrete analogy I used earlier. The seed of faith cannot grow in hardened hearts of stone. Nor can the seed grow well in hearts choked by the weeds of sin. That is why me must nourish our souls with the sacraments and frequently weed them in the sacrament of reconciliation. Would you weed your garden only once a year? Or once every 3, 5, or 10 years? No you would weed it often throughout the growing season. For our hearts the growing season is all year long and we must frequently care for that garden, nourish it, and remove any weeds that choke it. I encourage you to go to confession if it has been a while (3 months or more) and free the soil of your hearts from the weeds that would kill the life within it.
Faith without works is dead but works without faith are not really fruit. The fruit must be grown from the seed. That seed is Godís law and word planted in our hearts. Godís law doesnít limit our freedom but rather increases it. If we live according to that law it will bear fruit. But the seed must be planted in good soil. Our hearts must be ready to receive Godís seed and they can only be ready if we tend that soil well, nourishing it with the sacraments and freeing it from weeds through confession. Then, and only then can we expect the fruits God promises to come about.
The beautiful truth is that God created you for a purpose. He loves you and it is his intention that you be happy forever with him. He also created you free. You choose Freedom From or Freedom For. You can be free From following Godís laws but you will also be free from the fruits as well. You canít jump off a building and expect the law of gravity to be suspended. That is insane. Or, you can choose freedom for Godís law and for happiness by living according to the way he designed you and created you. The choice is yours. Choose well.