Dt 11:18, 26-28, 32, Ps 31:2-3, 3-4, 17, 25, Rom 3:21-25, 28
Many years ago there was an "ad campaign" on TV; I remember seeing it as a young boy. Apparently there was a real problem with public littering on our streets and in our cities. The public service commercial showed an American Indian, or Native American Chief, in full regalia walking around. He looked ashamedly at all these trash pits along the sides of our roads. After seeing people dispose of their trash by throwing it out of their moving cars he turns to the camera. With a face that seems expressionless, he continues to turn into view and you see the "hook". There is a profound sense of sadness about this man, this no longer brave and courageous warrior chieftain. He is crying, judging by the tear streaming down his cheek.
It was a brilliant campaign, and I can remember still being little and noticing these abandoned lots where there was much trash. I got the point. And seemingly so did the target audience because the litter problem seemed to dissipate; it is not quite the problem today that it once was, at least that is my perception.
We begin with this image to draw our attention to our collective conscience, as a society and our individual consciences as people of God. Regardless of our ethnicity, creed or color; we are all people that are created by God. We are, as Ezekiel says (11:19), created with a clean heart, and God's natural law is written on it.
Today’s readings are similarly connected with this thread. We, as people of the Judeo-Christian tradition have received God as revealed to man in His sacred word, and then eventually as Jesus Christ the Word made Flesh.
First we hear from Moses, the great Prophet of the Jews, extol his people to live by the commandments. If they shun "the law" then they will be cursed. Our Psalmist extols us to ask God to be our rock, our foundation the stable ground under our proverbial feet. St. Paul tells us, perhaps in his greatest Epistle (Romans) that Christ has completed the eternal sacrifice for us. No longer do we need to make our own sacrifice. The only necessity is to trust in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who had Faith in the Father's will. That faith now is his testimony to us to believe in his paschal sacrifice which satisfies and justifies our eternal reward: the heavenly kingdom.
In Mark, Jesus tells the disciples not to "fake it"; that will get them no where. They are to genuinely live the Gospel and not be showboats. This is a thinly veiled rebuke of the Pharisees and Sadducees who liked to publicly profess their faith and then privately treat the law with contempt, especially in their treatment of those marginalized by their gender, physical handicap or lack of wealth (widows).
Instead he says our testimony of faith in him, by listening to and conforming to His teaching (as difficult as it is) will rise to heaven. He alludes to the Psalmist we heard earlier by using the metaphor of building a house on rock or sand. We all know that rock makes the best foundation. Just look at the sturdy NY skyline built on the bedrock of Manhattan Island. Jesus is the eternal rock, the foundation of our faith and it is He who assures us of our place in heaven.
We are shifting from Ordinary Time into Lent, beginning next Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. Lent is a time for penance: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These are necessary steps for our sanctification, or purification. We remember how often Jesus went off alone to pray in the Gospels, especially after his Baptism in the Jordan by John (the Baptist). He spent 40 days in the desert, praying, fasting and was tempted by the devil three times (Mt 4:1-11). In fact this is next weeks Gospel, the first Sunday of Lent.
Why is our fasting important? Why should we take our Lenten penance seriously? Why do we deny ourselves "meat" on Fridays? Why do we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday?
One reason is because that is what we do as Catholics, it is our unique identity. The Jews fast on Yom Kippur, their day of atonement and mortify themselves (give up electricity and their cars, etcetera ....) on the Sabbath. Muslims fast during their holy month of Ramadan. But there is a difference for us....
We do this ultimately in solidarity with Him, Jesus Christ, who is God. He became man for us, for our salvation. This is a great act of Love by the Triune God who needs nothing, not even our response.
Then the Son, as man, subjected himself to the most dreadful death imagined by the harshest perceivable means.
Let us then take this Lent seriously. It is a time for mortification. A time for healing. It is the place where we clear out the things of our being that block our ability to love Him, and each other. If we do it well we learn (again) that are only true yearning is God, and He is our ultimate joy and fulfillment.
Then again, this year on April 24, we remember that He rose from the dead. Calling us to new life, eternal life in heaven with Him...and all the Angels and Saints, who praise and glorify God, where there is only joy, and pure and brilliant light, the light of God forever, perfect LOVE. Amen.