Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
When Our Blessed Lord said that “evil thoughts” come from us such as “fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness”, He did not mean to say that we are naturally evil. He meant to say that there is something in us that needs to be overcome, namely, Sin which we inherit from Adam and Eve.
Laying the ax on the root is essentially the nature of Christian identity, and this nature is the central theme all around the readings for this Sunday.
The first passage takes us to Moses addressing the chosen ones of our Blessed Lord, proclaiming to them the Word which they must follow and live by with all their heart. This Word is that which transcends over the Ten Commandments. This Word is simple yet so difficult to live by: to give your total self to the Lord and have faith in Him as you love your neighbor just as you love Him. This Word is the bottom line of the Ten Commandments. This Word is the root and the Ten Commandments are the branches. Instilling this Word in our deepest selves is the greatest challenge of our Christian identity, yet grants the greatest rewards to those who persevere in keeping the Word. The rewards will lift us up, as a Christian community, to be “a great nation” who has a God who is much more intimate than the other gods we tend to worship out of Sin, who has a God who went out His way to build a bridge to lead us back to paradise.
We cross that bridge through receiving the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation. These sacraments are what St. James describes as the “perfect” gifts in His epistle in today’s readings. These gifts are essentially the prescriptions God grants us from above in overcoming the Sin inherent in us. Yet, St. James says that we must receive these sacraments “with meekness”. Laying the ax on the root is the internal nature of Christian identity. Moreover, as one of the primary witness of Christ, St. James points out that there is also the external nature of our identity as Christians which is “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction”, another way of saying to dedicate ourselves for the good of our neighbor.
In the gospel, there is a challenge our Blessed Lord tackles, a challenge that involves the Pharisees. He is distraught about their hypocrisy, which is the result of the divorce between the internal and external nature of Christian identity. The Pharisees hold so eagerly on its internal element by following the laws they inherited from Moses, i.e. eating with clean hands, etc. but ignorant of the external element, namely, practicing charity onto others and not quick to self-righteousness, the chauffer of Sin. There is an ugly human paradox which Our Blessed Lord exposes: we become more enslaved to Sin as we become obsessed in following the Law. There is a line in Psalm 115 for this evening’s vespers which says, “They have eyes but they cannot see”. Perhaps this is well the case for those who are like the Pharisees; they have eyes to see the Laws that must be observed, but cannot see that very underlying purpose of those laws. They see that they must observe some practices out of obedience, but are blind enough to see that they must have the open heart to have the obedience extend into love for others. Perhaps the message the Lord has for us out of today’s readings is a warning for the trap of becoming a victim of self-righteousness out of obsessively following His decrees. Our Blessed Lord knows us too well. He knows our sickness. He has prescriptions for us. Yet, He wants us to know how to take that prescription correctly. Otherwise, the side effects may be as wicked as our sickness.
There is a question so relevant to our Christian identity that is worth asking ourselves day after day, and that is “Are our hearts hard enough in letting our commitment to Christ transform into a tireless love for others?”