How often do we take physical showers?
How often do we take spiritual showers: Confessing our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
Who dares to put his/her food on a dirty plate?
Who does not dare to receive Holy Communion with a sinful soul?
Like the Jews, we tend to meticulously cleanse utensils: plates, cups, forks, spoons, dishes, and the like! A very good hygienic practice. But will it contribute to our going to heaven?
Think of the way we carefully cleanse our bodies, or the way we do our hair, the care for finger nails; the perfumes we use, the lipstick, and the like. How much of that will help us to go to heaven?
Think of how smartly we try to dress! Will any of all that help us to go to heaven?
Reflect on the investment parents put in their children: the beautiful bedrooms, beds, beddings, dresses, shoes, toys, games, sports, secular studies. How much of that will help children to become saints?
People tend to meticulously practice their customs and government laws and regulations. But not so with God’s commandments. In Mark 7:8, Jesus observed that Jews disregarded God’s commandments and clang to human tradition.
Today’s readings explain what true religion is. It is not simply a scrupulous, external observance of rules, laws, traditions and rituals. It is a loving, obedient relationship with God expressed in obeying His Commandments, worshipping Him, recognizing His presence in other human beings and rendering them loving and humble service. Prayers, rituals, Sacraments and religious practices only help us to practice this true religion in our daily lives.
In Chapter 23 of Matthew Jesus denounces undue emphasis on external cleanliness as a cheap substitute for internal purity while they leave their minds and hearts filled with pride, evil intentions, prejudice and injustice and do not practice mercy or offer compassion to suffering people. For Jesus, the essence of religion is offering a clean heart to God, a heart filled with love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Mere external observance of rituals without cleansing the heart is hypocrisy.
That is why, in the gospel text from Mark 7:14-23, Jesus, who came for the cleansing of souls, admonishes the Jews and us to focus on the cleansing of the heart (or the soul). Because from the heart “come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly – all these evil things come from inside you and make you unclean” (vs 21-23). That is to say, unfit to receive Holy Communion, unfit to go to heaven, because “nothing unclean shall enter the new Jerusalem (heaven)” (Rev 21:27).
To be able to avoid those evil things, we need to obey God’s commandments. That is why, in the first reading from Deuteronomy (4:1-2), Moses advises the Israelites to focus on obeying God’s commandments so that they may live and enter and take possession of the promised land. He is admonishing us to do the same so that we may keep our souls clean and be allowed to enter heaven and live in happiness forever.
In the second reading, Saint James, whose letter we are reading on five consecutive Sundays, advises us: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (Jas 1:22&27).
Let us not be pharisaical in our religious life by meticulously practicing external observance of piety and devotion while remaining unjust, uncharitable, arrogant, impatient, cruel and stubborn. Let us learn to love God living in others by rendering them sacrificial service with agápe love as Jesus does up to giving us his body and blood for our salvation.