Moses presenting the Ten Commandments, Raphael [Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino] (1483–1520), 1518–19; Pontifical Palace, Vatican

Fr Neil’s homily for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, 29 August 2021

There is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him…For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts..¹

After performing wondrous miracles to free his people from slavery in Egypt, God reveals himself in a act of covenant to Moses on Mount Sinai. God gives the law and precepts to Moses for the people of God in the Ten Commandments, and in doing so God gives to his people the most profound and extraordinary gift.

The law of God reveals a glimpse into at least three fundamental things. The first is nature of God’s holiness. God is one, there is no other. He is the first cause and origin of creation and the one to whom our acts of praise and thanksgiving are rightly to be directed. God is holy and reveals the nature of goodness and truth.

Secondly, the law of God shows us the desire and will of God for his people. We are to conform our life to that which God has revealed. The law of God, which is written into the very fabric of the created order, which we now refer to as natural law, leads either to the flourishing of life or its diminishing — depending on its conformity or not to the will of God. God’s desire is that we live and flourish.

Thirdly, the commandments and precepts of God speak to the very heart of the human condition. In the light of God’s revealed will we become aware of the depth to which we humans have fallen: our uninformed consciences are seen in the light of God to be corrupt. How hard we try to justify our own desires and manner of living, to wriggle around the truth of that which is revealed as good or evil, life or death. Our corrupt selves have far too often treated the law of God as either a means of punishing others by pointing the finger, or punishing ourselves being overwhelmed with our sense of wretchedness. We see no light or good, or we see the law as a problem to be overcome and from which to free ourselves. The worst deception is to pitch God’s mercy and love as being in opposition to his laws and precepts.

Yet as Moses says in our first reading,

For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?²

The law tells us how we should behave towards God and our neighbour, how to identify good and evil, life and death, and is a holy gift of God to his people.

There is very little better preparation for confession that doing an self-examination using the Ten Commandments as they direct us towards God’s mercy. These precepts of God are as relevant today as they were when they were given four thousand years ago, because the human condition hasn’t changed.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom³:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.⁴

However, while the external code of the law reveals the nature of God and humanity’s alienation and fall from grace, it cannot heal the rift it has highlighted.

Our outward failure to follow God’s precepts is a symptom of a deeper problem that goes to the heart and soul of humanity and requires a much deeper transformation — nothing less than a dying to the fallen nature of humanity and a rebirth into a new creation.

We can all “fake it to make it” but that doesn’t solve the real issues. Think about it: we have more and more rules in work places and social situations designed to protect against sexism, but we see a greater sexual exploitation of people, especially women, than ever before. We are increasingly aware of disability discrimination, yet the Church is fighting laws on abortion of babies up to birth for any slight defect — or, indeed, any reason at all.

It is why or Lord in his Sermon on the Mount highlighted that “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”⁵

Praise God if you haven’t committed adultery or fornication! But if you have looked at another lustfully, then the seed for committing adultery is there in the midst of our heart and soul. It is why Jesus says, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts..”⁶

The solution requires the renewing of our hearts and minds in Christ, in whose flesh the law of God became incarnate for our salvation and who showed the way to life through his death and resurrection. We need the external law to become an internal reality as James tells us:

Therefore … receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.⁷

Christ is that Word in whose life we are regenerated by baptism, becoming a member of his body, the Church. It is his life we also receive at the sacrifice of the mass, to conform our hearts and souls into his life. We receive this not by external laws but by internal transformation and self abandonment to God’s will. We are called to act by faith, trusting in the divine will that his love is greater than sin and death.

¹ Mark 7:15, 21
² Deuteronomy 4:7–8
³ Proverbs 9:10
⁴ Psalm 1:1–2
⁵ Matthew 5:27–28
⁶ Mark 7:21
⁷ James 1:21

The editorial title comes from Psalm 119:1.