The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 September 2018
Saint Peter the Apostle in Naples & St. Sebastian Church in Ft. Lauderdale
When you push through the examples here forgetting about washing and all that stuff, you get to the real point of this episode in Mark’s Gospel. Think of this Gospel as a handbook or formation program for true disciples of Jesus. When you do that, this becomes a lesson on integrity. It ought to be obvious to everyone of us that we are living through a time of moral decay. The evidence is a loss of integrity which is just what Jesus is addressing in these verses. I remind you that the Word of God is always the truth, not opinion or suggestion. It is the truth from God. This integrity Jesus is demanding is the quality of being undivided. It is one. It is being true to one’s standard. It is, I guess, honesty. It is sincerity. It is incorruptibility. It is the exact opposite of hypocrisy.
Let me give you a real-life example. Some years ago, a family in the parish was having trouble with their older teen aged son. He was messing around with drugs and running around with serious troublemakers. They asked me over to talk with them, and in the conversation, expressing what he was most worried about, the father said: “He’s becoming a liar, and I can’t stand it.” Minutes later, the phone rang. His wife answered the phone and stepped in to tell the father who was calling. The father said: “Tell them I’m not home.” Who made that boy a liar, drugs or his dad? How can that boy learn integrity, I wondered? In recalling this, I also remembered another father, the father of one of my closest friends. Reminiscing after his father’s death, he told me of an experience from years ago about a summer when his sister was looking for employment. She had two job offers. One she wanted very much and the other she didn’t but would take as a second choice. As you can imagine, that job came up first, and it was offered to her. She wanted to hold out for the other, but she didn’t know if an offer was going to come. So, she went ahead and accepted it for her summer job. A few days later, as you also might guess, the other job became available to her, and she wanted to quit the first very much and go to the second. So, she went to her father and said, “Dad, I have a problem.” And she told him about her dilemma. He looked her straight in the eye and said, “Did you take the first job?” She said, “Yes” “Did you promise you would work there this summer?” She said, “Yes.” He said, “Why are we having this conversation?”
The kind of integrity Jesus models for his disciples is validated by words and deeds. The pure of heart are pure in action, and so integrity is making daily actions line up with the heart’s values. Integrity demands that we stand for what is the right and the upright thing to do. If you look carefully at the person of Jesus Christ three things become obvious, and those are three ways to maintain and strengthen integrity. 1. Be the same person in front of the crowd as you are behind the scenes. The real test of one’s integrity is a crisis or being under stress. That is when we reveal who we really are for good or ill. 2. Be careful not to conform. Do you notice that about Jesus? He is the ultimate non-conformist! Integrity is about doing the right thing regardless of what others think or do. St. Paul in writing to the Romans says it straight out: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.” 3. Recognize right now that having integrity is hard work, a challenge day in and day out, and it only comes through endurance. It’s slow going. You can’t get to the top without integrity. Some do, but they don’t stay long without it.
“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” is the lament of Jesus standing there before those hypocrites who are always picking away at him, watching and waiting for him to do something that will give them evidence or reason not to believe him. They say things they do not mean. They do things because others are watching them, and they want to look good and holy. He turns to us today, his disciples, and calls us to integrity. Integrity is what reveals morality which describes the principals of our behavior. For us, the principals come from Jesus Christ and from our relationship to him. The restoration of morality in our society and in our times will come about from believing disciples of Jesus who have integrated their lives into his so much so that there is no longer any difference between what God wants and what we do.
At the end of Mass after the blessing this story is told:
Ernest Hemingway wrote a story about a father and his teenage son. In the story, the relationship had become somewhat strained, and the teenage son ran away from home. His father began a journey in search of that rebellious son. Finally, in Madrid, Spain, in a last desperate attempt to find the boy, the father put an ad in the local newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, Meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.” The next day, in front of the newspaper office, 800 Pacos showed up. They were all seeking forgiveness. They were all seeking the love of their father.
If you’re a Paco this morning, and you want the forgiveness and the integrity of Jesus Christ in your life, tell the heavenly Father that and through Jesus Christ, he will say, “You are forgiven. Welcome home, my child.” And if you do that in dead seriousness and with real meaning, you’ll rise up and walk out of this building a person of integrity. God wants that for us; we want that for us. Jesus is able to make us that. Go in peace, and proclaim this Gospel by your lives!