Dear Friends in Jesus Christ…,
I am very sure you all know the commercial for Capital One Credit Card where they ask the question, “What’s in your wallet?” But I think the question Jesus repeats to us in this week’s Gospel is, ‘What’s in your heart?’ In today’s gospel there was a question, “What makes a person holy?” Jesus reminds us, by saying ‘what makes you holy and worthy of heaven is what is in your heart’. “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. 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.” You know at the time of Jesus there were a list of things clean and unclean to eat. They had different rituals and rules to keep oneself clean. The Pharisees speak about external purity but Jesus is concerned about purity of soul. The Pharisees spoke about hands and mouth but Jesus spoke about heart and stomach. The Pharisees concentrated on what goes into a person but Jesus emphasized what comes out of a person. The Pharisees were keen observers of the distinction between clean and unclean because it reminded them that the Jews were a people set apart. Yet when God created the world everything was good. Genesis gives us two accounts of creation and each emphasizes the goodness of God’s creation. In part of the second account of creation which we heard today (Gen 2) we read that the trees in Eden were delightful to look at and good for food. But then the laws in Leviticus 11 forbade eating certain kinds of food. Now Jesus declares all food clean; it is no longer necessary to obey the food laws of Leviticus because as Genesis reminds us, everything God created is good. Jesus is restoring the understanding of creation in Genesis once again. If there is no longer a distinction between clean and unclean food, there is also no longer a distinction between clean and unclean persons.
What matters now is not eating with ritually clean hands. What matters now is our heart. Jesus asks that we wash and purify our hearts instead of ritually purifying our hands before eating. The list of vices that Jesus gives in today’s Gospel are lists sins against love of neighbor. Here again we see another way Jesus has broadened the debate. If the Pharisees were tempted to think that holiness could be achieved merely by observing ritual purity laws before God, Jesus teaches that holiness cannot be achieved without love of neighbor; his list of vices refers to most of the seven commandments of the Decalogue on love of neighbor. Jesus accuses them specifically of two things. First of hypocrisy. Like actors, who put on a show, they appear to obey God’s word in their external practices while they inwardly harbor evil desires and intentions. Allow God’s word to change your way of thinking. Secondly, he accuses them of abandoning God’s word by substituting their own arguments and ingenious interpretations for what God requires.
Jesus points his listeners to the source of true defilement – evil desires which come from inside a person’s innermost being. The temptations are inevitable they come to us. We do not need to entertain or give in to sinful desires or thoughts, but instead, through the grace of God, we can choose to put them to death rather than allow them to be the master who controls our way of thinking, feeling, and acting. The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness only God can change our hearts and make them clean and whole through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lord is ever ready to change and purify our hearts through his Holy Spirit who dwells within us. His power and grace enables us to choose what is good and to reject what is evil. Jesus made us clean and pure of heart as He promised through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you”. “I will put My Spirit within you and make you live by my statutes”. He did it through the sacrament of Baptism. And he asked us to keep forever clean and pure for the life of heaven.
Let us pray, “Lord Jesus, fill me with your Holy Spirit and make my heart like yours – on fire with love and holiness. Strengthen my will that I may always choose to love what is good and to reject what is evil.”
God Bless You,
Dear Friends in Jesus Christ…,
This is the fifth and last Sunday that we continue our reflection on Jesus the Bread of Life. On this final day we are challenged. The challenge is to accept Jesus or not accept Jesus. We have to make a decision. The fundamental choice we make determines how we live our lives, deciding whom we will serve. In our first reading, Joshua challenges the Israelites who have entered the Promised Land to make a choice. He challenges the people to reaffirm their Covenant relationship with Yahweh. By that time the Promised Land had been divided up among the tribes of Israel. But a big concern is whether the tribes will remain faithful to the Lord God or drift away from their worship of and obedience to the God of Israel. So before departing from them in death, Joshua gathers the tribal leaders around him to issue his last words of advice. They gather at Shechem, 40 miles north of Jerusalem, where God had first appeared to Abraham and promised to make his descendants a great nation.It was a fitting place for the renewal of the Covenant. Joshua reminds the people of what God has done for them in rescuing them from slavery in Egypt, providing for their survival in the desert and giving them victory over their enemies. God has been their Deliverer, Provider and Protector. Joshua’s challenge to the Israelites is to decide, then and there, whom they will serve, the gods of their fathers, the gods of the Amorites among whom they now live, or this God Who has done so much for them. They have to decide for the God of Israel or to reject Him in favor of the idols of their fathers and neighbors. Their decision for God should be reflected in their fidelity to the terms of the Covenant, i.e. the Law. Then Joshua sets the example for the rest of Israelites: “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua’s challenge prefigures the choice the apostles must make in today’s Gospel. We, too, are asked today whether or not we choose to remain in discipleship to Jesus. The Renewal of Covenant ceremony in Joshua chapter 24 reminds us that the Eucharist is a Covenant meal that calls for a decision of Faith. In the Gospel we have very dramatic situation. People find it very hard to believe Jesus’ teaching and they say “This teaching is difficult. Who can accept it?” Many of them left Jesus. Jesus asked his disciples “Do you want to leave me, too?” Peter’s response, “Master, to whom we shall go? You have the words of eternal life,” reflects the Faith-filled, free and whole-hearted decision of the early Christian community to follow Jesus and his teaching. While giving Holy Communion, the priest says, “The Body of Christ” and we respond with a total, “Amen” or “Yes!” That “Yes!” is not just an act of Faith in the Real Presence but a total commitment of myself to Jesus in the community of which I am a member.
The Old Testament, the New Testament and the history of the Church tell the stories of brave men and women who heroically exercised their freedom of choice for God and His Commandments and so courted martyrdom. II Maccabees 6:18-31 describes how the 90-year-old saintly scribe, Eleazar, welcomed martyrdom rather than eat the flesh of a pig. The same book describes another heroic Jewish mother and her seven brave children who lost their lives by resisting the order of the Greek commander to reject their Jewish Faith. The martyrdom of St. Stephen is described in the Acts of the Apostles. The first three centuries saw thousands of Christians heroically choosing Christ and courting the cruel death inflicted by the pagan Roman Empire. St. Thomas More was the second-in-power in England and St. John Fisher the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University. Both were executed by King Henry VIII for choosing the teaching of the Church on marriage and divorce instead of choosing their king’s view. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and pastor, chose to resist the anti-Christian and non-ethical doctrines of Hitler and was executed at 39. Today’s readings challenge us to make a choice for God and His teachings or against God.
We Christians have accepted the challenge of following the way of Christ and making choices for Christ, fortified by the Bread he gives and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. The Heavenly Bread and the Holy Spirit will give us the courage of our Christian convictions to accept the Church’s teachings and to face ridicule, criticisms and even social isolation for our adherence to sound Christian principles in our lives. We must accept him totally, without any conditions or reservations. Christ’s thoughts and attitudes, his values, his life-view must become totally ours, and must govern and shape our lives. Above all, we are to identify with him in the offering of his Flesh and the pouring out of his Blood on the cross, the symbol of God’s unutterable love for us.
God Bless You,