This is the twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time. In the gospel today, we see Jesus confronting us about a matter that is very major and important in our lives as Christians. The Pharisees observed certain ceremonial acts and external gestures. As a liturgical people, we have some form of “godliness” like bowing before the Cross and before the Altar or genuflecting, which are not bad per se. Jesus says that if our holiness is as shallow as what is on the surface, then, that is what makes it wrong.
We call the Pharisees hypocrites. They are like theatre actors who have a different personality on and off the stage, which shouldn’t be among us. What we do at the Altar should be consistent with our daily lives. We bow before the Cross as an expression of our submission to the way of the Cross, and what is the Cross? It is laying down our life for others; it is absorbing the sins of others. It is not for people to say that we are a religious person. This is where the Pharisees fell short. They were not consistent with what they do at the temple and with what they do in front of the people.
The word “Pharisee” means separate. We are actually meant to be separate to the world. We are to have a different standard of righteousness. The culture, the standard is higher. Our righteousness is supposed to surpass that of the Pharisees. “Separate” doesn’t mean detaching ourselves, but our having a higher standard involves interaction with the world. Our standard calls us to meet the needs of the needy, to minister to them. This is why Jesus said, “You are in the world, but not of the world,” and this is how we are “separate” – not living with the ways of the world.
We are to get the people out of their kingdom, out of the world’s culture, into the Kingdom’s culture. We cannot do this by being literally separate from them and not having anything to do with them. The bottom line is: are we called to show off with externals or is it a matter of the heart or a way of life? The external things we do only represent what our temple is supposed to embody. We bow before the Cross because we illustrate that we submit to the principle of the Cross.
The Israelites were instructed by God to wear phylacteries. These are small boxes which contain the Word of God which are supposed to be in the forehead or held by hand or on the chest (representing the heart). Why is this? The Word of God should be in our minds and in our hearts, and this is what is being illustrated. The Word of God should be in our hand because whatever our hands sets to do should be according to the command of God. What is being represented is what our lives should be actualizing and our persons should be embodying. It is all about purity of heart. If we have a pure heart, all the other external things that are seen on the surface will manifest the purity of the heart. Our obedience to the Law is because of our relationship with the Author and the Spirit, not because of its sanctions or a legal requirement.
For married people, a spouse would not commit adultery not because he/she is afraid of being jailed or killed, but because of the love for the partner. It should be as deep as the heart. It is all a matter of the heart where the issues of life flow. If we walk in the Spirit, that is to be in a love relationship with God, we will fulfil the Law. St. Paul says, “Walk in the Spirit, and you will fulfil all the requirements of the Law.” If a husband/wife loves his/her spouse, he/she need not threaten his/her spouse so that he/she will be faithful to him/her. Their heart should be dictating to them that it is all about their heart, about their love that matters.
Christianity should be seen as a relationship – not as a legal transaction or contract. It is not about garnering or earning points, but all about growing in the relationship. 1 John 3:1 NIV translation says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God … When Christ appears, we shall be like Him.” Our mission and our desire are to be like Him, and eventually, we will be fully like Him. “All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure.” The purification of our hearts is because of a desire to be like Jesus, not a desire to appear holy or to please our superior, our ministry leader, our pastor, priest or bishop. It is all about fixing our hope on being like Jesus, and this is what is driving us. Our motivation is to purify ourselves. It should not be an obligation, a requirement or a legal sanction.
Jesus said in John 17, “For their sakes, I sanctify (purify) Myself.” He does this for our sakes not to earn points with His Father. He sanctifies Himself because He loves His people and He is in a relationship. Ephesians 5 instructs husbands to love their wives. It is not all about point system, but to imitate Christ who gave Himself up for us not to appease an angry God, but because He loves us. Our motivation should be coming from the heart.
We please God, we know Him not because we want to get to heaven “by and by”. We know Him because knowing Him IS eternal life. It starts now, and we want to be in that love relationship until eternity. We are instructed not to do the deeds of the flesh because if we do, we won’t enter the Kingdom. It is not a threat, but an instruction because God wants us to grow in our relationship with Him. God warns; He does not threaten. He is pure love, pure good. He is not One who lies in wait with a big stick so that at our first mistake, He can hit us. God doesn't tempt and will evil. What comes from Him is only good. James says that there is no variation or shifting shadow in Him. The song says that there is no shadow of turning because He is immutable and He doesn’t change. 1John 1:5 says that in Him, there is no darkness at all, only love. God warns because He loves us.
As an illustration, a father who loves his toddler child tells him not to put the fork in the outlet because he can get electrocuted and might eventually die. What if the child does it, but not to a point of dying? Will the father say, “Didn’t I tell you not to put that fork in the outlet? But since you did not die, I will kill y