"Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name." These words from THIS SUNDAY'S GOSPEL [JOHN 17: 11 - 19] are pivotal to our reflection this week....
I am a little out of touch but are masked balls still a fashionable entertainment for the ‘in set’? I doubt it! Perhaps pool or pyjama parties have taken over? At least the masked ball covered the blemishes while the contemporary substitutes, all too often, reveal that many folk have neither pride not shame?!
So, against this background we read Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah in TODAY’S GOSPEL [MARK 7: 1 – 8. 14 – 15. 21 – 23]: “this people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” To this we should add his further comment that “there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of man are what defile him.”
Two basic essential truths emerge from these two verses. We can all fall into the traps of outward appearances which so easily become a habit, a way of life, and which unconsciously take hold of our approach to faith and religion. The outward observances become all-important and, eventually, emerge as the focus and essential value of practice and commitment. We do not believe in the signs and symbols of observances – as our Gospel extract tells us:
“and there are many other traditions which they observe.” The signs and symbols point further and deeper, into the unseen realities in which we believe. Observances do not really capture the heart. This is what Jesus means today when he quotes Isaiah …. this people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. It is no good honouring the observance without faith, faith in the reality to which the observance is designed to leads us. I do not ‘believe in’ prayer and fasting, Sunday Mass, the Rosary or prayer. Do you? Surely not! All of these, and the list is endless, are observances, traditions or tools. Do you use a gimlet to make holes because you like holes or because you want to achieve something else, more lasting and valuable? We use the tools but not for their own sakes.
“doers of the word” and not “hearers only.” If we are only hearers we ignore the real call of discipleship which is “to be brought forth by the word of faith.” [see TODAY’S NEW TESTAMENT READING: JAMES 1: 17 – 18. 21b – 22. 27]. Something has to be BROUGHT FORTH …. We need to go deeper into ourselves. Real faith grows, matures and blossoms out of the heart. To settle for less means, in reality, that “we walk without faith.” [see TODAY’S PSALM 15]. As the Psalm also tells us if we walk with real faith we “shall never be broken.”
To be brought forth by the word of faith!
I am fascinated by, and focussed on, the phrase to be brought forth. What precisely and exactly were the Pharisees and scribes bringing forth by their almost neurotic obsession with the external observances? Did they ever go deeper into themselves and search for real richness and meaning beyond the signs, symbols and observances? Did they want to? Did they even see the need to do so? Were they actually doing them or merely observing the outward format …. going through the motions, motions which had become all-important? The motions were no longer tools but had become the real ‘thing’. Whatever they were brining forth was stillborn. They took possession of nothing.
OUR OLD TESTAMENT READING [DEUTERONOMY 4: 1 – 2. 6 – 8]
makes it clear that we are called to “do” for a purpose – “that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord … gives you.” Our observances must make us ALIVE in Christ-Jesus, and bring forth the ability and willingness to GO IN and TAKE POSSESSION of what the Lord has given us.