29 August 2015


deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; james 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

one sunday, jim and JESUS were walking around in heaven. JESUS showed jim the earth below… and his church at home where the eucharist was being celebrated. jim watched for a while; then something began to puzzle him: he could see the priest move his lips; he could see lectors read, the choir sing, and the organist thump the keyboard. but he couldn’t hear a sound. was there something wrong with heaven’s amplification system or with his ears? he turned to JESUS… who explained: «we have a rule that if they don’t do things on earth with their hearts, we don’t hear them here at all!»

we «do» many things as part of our «religious practices»… often without our hearts.
the readings of today remind us that religion is not about externals and obligations; religion is living GOD’s word from and with our hearts.

in the first reading, moses urges the people to be faithful to GOD’s laws, which expressed their relationship with GOD, and were to be a source of life and wisdom. but over the years, the elders added regulations to govern every action and situation of life. the focus moved from love of GOD and neighbour to the exact external fulfilment of the law.
it is one of these numerous «traditions» that the disciples broke: they ate without the ritual washing of hands. the dialogue that ensues between the pharisees and JESUS highlights an essential difference between two mind-sets: for the pharisees, religion was a performance, a meticulous carrying out of external regulations sans any concern for attitudes. for JESUS, religion was a matter of the heart, and about love of GOD and care for one’s fellow humans. this is also the thrust of the second reading: true religion is listening to and acting on GOD’s word, and caring for the weak and oppressed.

like the jewish elders, i can make religion a ritual while my heart is far from GOD and neighbour. the attitudes that motivate my actions, the way i associate with my neighbour… this is the heart of religion.
i need to undergo a «heart test» to check who and what i really am before GOD and neighbour. to what do i give importance: clean hands or clean heart; ritual or relationship? is my heart in all that i say and do? bring on the heart sanitizer!