RCL Year B, Proper 17 (Alternate Readings)
Deuteronomy 4:1-2 and 6-9, Psalm 15, James 1:17-27, Saint Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, and 21-23

In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the letter of the law, the letter of their bond, saves Antonio from Shylock’s effort to recover a pound of flesh from him. How could Shylock recover the flesh without shedding Antonio’s blood, after all.

But the letter is not always saving. In Second Corinthians we read that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”[1] Jesus confronts the Pharisees in today’s Gospel and points out that the Pharisees in keeping the law precisely and exactly miss the point of the law. For if the letter only is observed, how shall the spirit be served? It is humanly impossible to keep the letter of the law. The Pharisees only succeed in deluding themselves that they keep the law. Human nature will not abide keeping the letter and the spirit of the law. Murder and the rest of the long list that follows it defile a person, and something of that list resides in each and every person. We all need a Savior. The Pharisees most especially need a Savior when they think they keep the law.

For this reason, Christ offered himself on the cross and offers himself in this Eucharist to do for you what you cannot do for yourselves. Be wise and accept his gift. As Saint James reminds us: “be doers of the word and not merely hearers…they will be blessed in their doing.”[2]


[1] 2 Corinthians 3:6.

[2] James 1:22-25.