22nd Sunday:pure and undefiled Religion: to care for orphans and widows
Jesus condemns the attitude of “busy-body” persons in the gospel of today. The “busy-body” include the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the Israelite community and the Scribes, interpreters of the Old Testament law. Both groups occupy exalted positions and use their authorities in an exploitative way. They pride themselves about observance of the laws. They are nosy and intrusive. They watch Jesus’ disciples as if it’s their responsibility. Whether the disciples wash their hands before eating their meals, and whether they are physically qualified to eat their meals following the traditions of the elders. Jesus reprimands them against their externalism, their life of show and describes them as hypocrites. Is it about the tradition of the elders or about the commandments of God? Is it about handwashing or about cleanliness of heart? Is it about regard for the law or about compassion for human beings? That lays the background for the message of today which highlights the significance of practical Christianity.
As believers, we should always ask what practical impact our faith has on other people. Are we always making positive impacts? However, it is more important to understand that our faith can have a strong influence on others only if we are in a healthy relationship with God ourselves. Christ challenges this inner disposition this way, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” What goes into the person can only cause physical harm as it goes into the stomach. Bad foods and drinks harm our bodies not our souls. If for example, we eat a bad food, all it does is to worry our stomach, maybe get us sick.
Whereas the stomach rules the physical domain, aids physical digestion, the heart rules the spiritual, makes spiritual digestion possible. The heart is the center of the traffic flow of emotions. Other than pump blood around the body and send oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the human body, it is in the heart that affection, forgiveness, sorrow, joy, vengeance, acceptance, etc., flow from. The heart either conceives evil or lets go of harm done against the individual. Christ invites the Pharisees to examine their hearts and see if it corresponds with what their lips profess. When the heart is in a good relationship with God, kind and loving actions follow. For that reason, the Psalmist says, “Create a clean heart in me O God, put in me a steadfast spirit” (Ps. 51:10).
Most times, we wonder why we are not able to perform optimally in our faith. The reason is because we need to open our hearts more to God’s grace. You know the song of Paul Baloche that says, “Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you.” We just have to let the Holy Spirit into our hearts to make God’s word germinate. The word must move us. Prayers must be felt and not seen as mere recitation of words. The sacraments must inspire us to deeper commitment to the cause of goodness. It is at that point that we focus on what satisfies our souls beyond what our bodies want.
James describes that as pure religion, one that humbly welcomes the word of God planted in our hearts. Pure religion is one which opens the eyes of our hearts to the needs of others. It is a religion that produces strong passion to love like Jesus. It is the religion that sincerely makes us to strive for charity and compassion. Pure religion is one that connects with the reality of the human existence.
Two great expectations for today include:
1. to care for orphans and widows in their affliction
2. to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Helping orphans and widows is not an option, rather a Christian commitment. It is a way to show God’s love. Christ reached out to the poor and provided for them. He challenged his disciples with the great mandate, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me.” Again, Jesus prescribed the manner for giving in a way that promotes the dignity of the poor and enhances our relationship with God when he says, “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:2-4)
Sometimes, I hear people ask, where they can channel their donations. Some persons claim they do not know what to do or how to help. I will say, the best donation made is that given to someone who has no way to repay you. For that reason, scripture says, “Blessed is the hand that gives than the one that takes.” I can link you up with orphanages where you will be glad that you helped. We have children abandoned for no fault of theirs, children who need the barest minimum, children with no homes, children who do not know any imperfections and whose hearts are like angels. That is where Mother Teresa excelled beyond any other.
Keeping oneself unstained by the world links up with the noble things that enhance our spiritual journey. Jesus explains, “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within, and they defile.” Christ invites us to keep our hearts free from evil, malice, and all forms of deceit. The world is filthy today and can easily corrupt our souls if we are not rooted in Christ. We can overcome the evils of the world if we let our hearts be ruled by love and humility. A humble, contrite heart does the will of God. Say this simple prayer and ask God to open the eyes of your heart to love him like Jesus, “Jesus, meek and humble of heart. Make my heart like yours.” If Jesus makes your heart close to being like his, your religion will be pure and you’ll see the needs of the poor and the orphans from God’s point of view not yours.
Readings: 1st- Dt. 4:1-2, 6-8; 2nd- Jas. 1:17-18, 21-22, 27; Gospel- Mk. 7:1-8, 14-15,21-23