What it means to be a Child of God – a Christian!

A Reflection for 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B).
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8 – James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27 – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

Dear brothers and sisters, people like to talk about family resemblances, don’t they? It’s rather fun to observe generational characteristics including appearances, mannerisms and personalities developing in children. Relatives will say things like “oh, he’s got his daddy’s eyes” or “her mummy used to do that when she was little” or “goodness me, he’s so like his grandad”. Across the spectrum of our family members, we see genes being passed down from generation to generation. That genetic connection is so specific to our families that we even talk about someone being a carbon copy of a relative, either in physical appearance or in terms of behaviour. When a child is born, we don’t actually know whom they will most closely resemble. The outcome will depend largely upon “nature and nurture”. As a child grows, the physical semblances become apparent, and the behavioural semblance is usually cultivated in the family environment. I say “usually”, because occasionally the child’s physical development will be governed by dormant or damaged genes, or the behavioural development will break from familial or cultural norms. So, further down the line, when the child has grown up, people ask themselves “whom do they resemble now?”. If there is a distinct difference, they wonder “perhaps they’re like someone we haven’t yet traced in our ancestry?” or (rather unkindly), “they must be a throwback”. Anyway, all the above is not intended as a science class, but as “a little something” for us to hold onto to help us towards understanding better our relationship with God. How come? Because this resemblance is visible in our personal
relationship with God. At the very moment of our Baptism, we are initiated into the Family of God. We, the Baptised, are all Children of God (1Jn 3:1). In the Family of God, we grow up and mature in the Faith in that Family environment, and progressively become conformed to God our Father and to Jesus our Brother through the action of the Holy Spirit and the Communion of Saints

That brings me to the main point of today’s Reflection. Let me put it to you as a question. Here it is: “What does it mean to be a Child of God?” Let’s unpack this bit by bit. What does it mean to be a Christian? It means that we bear in us the identity of God. It means that when people look at us, they see in us an interior resemblance to Jesus Christ. In the Gospel, it is Jesus who encourages us to honour God, not only through lip-service (cf. v.6) but also from the heart (cf. v.21) and to live according to the Law and customs of God (1R v.1f). This is what St James calls pure and unspoilt religion (2R v.27). God wants those who love Him to keep His Commandments (Jn 14:15). A genuine, practising Christian is one who loves God and demonstrates that love (a) by loving their neighbour (Mt 22:27ff), reaching out to help the less-privileged, the poor and disadvantaged around them, and (b) by aspiring towards perfection, grace and holiness by keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world (v.27).

True religion, therefore, doesn’t lie in externals, in an outward show of religion like that of the Pharisees. Jesus condemned their religious gloss. They lacked internal religion – empathy and sympathy for people whom He created and sustained – which is absolutely essential for living out the Christian life in all its fullness. It would be pompous of us to look down on the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, though. Yes, they clashed with Jesus about what constituted proper worship of God, but the majority of them were the best of people who loved God and devoted their lives to guiding souls to Him. Their error lay in thinking that being devout was primarily about fulfilling law and ritual. Our error lies in dismissing them as pious hypocrites. They were outraged when they perceived Jesus to be departing from Jewish tradition (when He was actually fulfilling it) and when He told them they had missed the whole point of religion. He was outraged because they were making external observance the supreme test of goodness and ‘God-ness’, paying Him lip service instead of demonstrating heartfelt love of God.

Christ’s words to the Pharisees presented them with a challenge, and those words apply to us too. Our Lord is pointing out that the blinkered attitude of the Pharisee lurks within each one of us. Jesus is warning us to be on our guard against merely external compliance with ritual. We’ve got to internalise it and make it our own. Yes, it pleases God that we turn up for Sunday Mass, but we don’t get our brownie points from God if we are just taking up space in the pew and letting our minds wander. If our worship of God is to be worthy, and if our relationship with God is to be genuinely Familial, we must pay attention to what we are doing! Jesus is telling us that while man looks to appearances, God looks to the heart (1Sam 16:7) and cannot be deceived. He is demanding that our innermost thoughts stand up to scrutiny, as well as our outward actions. We are to search out continually what God wants of us by the way we practise the Faith and by purifying the way we live out our secular lives.

Your kindness, your love, the consideration you show towards other people, your empathy, goodness, patience with others, your assistance to the needy, your love for doing what is right and for doing what God wants you to do… all these are paramount in developing your resemblance to God, in your being a Child of God. Our liturgical differences from our brothers and sisters in other denominations remain, but let the essential actions and attitudes mentioned above never be found lacking in us. Let us be truly Christ-like Children of God. God
bless you.