Doers of the Word
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

Three priests were discussing their approaches to preaching. The first one said,”I preach even if I don’t do.” He likened himself to a doctor who tells his patient to stop smoking even if he hiimself has a habit of smoking. He has to preach on what is right, true, and good, even if sometimes he cannot abide by what he preaches. The second said, “I preach what I do.” He was selective on his preaching. Since he had his own weaknesses, he only chose topics that he knew he could observe. As a consequence, he did not preach on the evils of drinking because he himself was a habitual drinker. The third said, “I do what I preach.” He felt he was in a more difficult situation. Like the first one, he felt duty-bound to preach on what is right, true, and good. Like the second one, he knew he had his own failures. So he strove to do what he preached, “The people to whom I preach struggle with the implications of the Word of God in their own life. So do I.”

The Word of God challenges us to go beyond our moral comfort zones. The readings this Sunday show this struggle in the lives of the people who strive to observe it. The first reading tells the story of Moses as he encouraged the people of Israel, “Hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live” (Deut. 4:1). In the second reading, the writer of of the letter of James (1:22) encourages the early Christian community, “Be doers of the word.” Hearing the word of God should lead to care and compassion for the orphans and widows. In the Gospel, Jesus reminds His hearers that they should pay attention to the weightier matters of the law, rather than the external rituals. More important that the washing and cleansing of the hands is the cleansing of the heart for, “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly” (Mark 7:21-22).

The gap between intellectual understanding and willing action can be difficult to cross. One may know what is the right thing to do, but this does not necessarily lead to right action. Some kind of moral effort is needed to cross that gap. One has to reach a certain point of mental conviction and heartfelt caring in order to make a decision and will himself to act. For some people this distance between understanding to action may take a while to traverse. There are others who seem to have an intuition for action. They jump into action faster. Two people who see a child in danger on a busy street may act differently. One may hesitate and take awhile to act, while the other immediately runs to save the child.

To become a doer of the word, one has to be more and more familiar with the way God thinks. This is made possible by our studying, reading, and savoring in prayer the word of God. The best way to know how God thinks is to know Jesus more and more. Jesus is the embodiment of the Word of God. He is Word-made-flesh. We know Jesus by reading the Gospel. This means we enter into a “culture of the Word of God” such that we develop an intuition for action that is a consequence of familiarity with God’s ways.

This familiarization with the ways of God by studying and praying over the Word of God in the company of a like-minded community of friends may bridge the gap between understanding and action. From hearers of the Word, we become doers of the Word.