22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: "PURITY OF HEART"
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 you,” just to fulfil what he said to the child? The father gives the instruction because of love, and he doesn’t want harm to inflict his child.
Warnings and instructions are given for our sake, for our safety, for our health, because God loves us. He hates sin and disobedience because of what it does to us, not to Him. Sin does not afflict God; sin afflicts us. Sin does not destroy God; sin destroys us. God doesn’t want this because He loves us. In fact, He came to a point where He said, “Sin is killing them, so I have to do something about it.” What God did was to put the sin upon His Son, as a man, and it “killed” Him because He is in a love relationship with us, which is His nature.
Psalm 15 says, “Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord? Who may abide in His tent? He who walks with integrity and works righteousness, speaks truth in his heart, and does not slander with his tongue.” Slandering with our tongue is what defiles us, which may come from our heart. We may be “holy looking” in Church, but if we slander our brother, we are dirty and filthy. Why would we slander and destroy the character of our brother? Why do we want to destroy their image, which is the image of Christ in them, in the eyes of others? This is an evil thing to do, and if we are engaged in things like this, cease right now because this is not how a Christian should act. This will be an impediment to our growth as an individual and as our growth as a Church.
Jesus does not minced words in saying, “The fornicators, the slanderers, the evil thoughts come from the heart and these make us unclean.” Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord? Those who have pure hearts, and those who defend their brother, and those who have clean hands and a pure heart.
The Beatitudes say, “Blessed are the peacemakers, those who are meek and humble… because they shall inherit the kingdom of God, they shall see God, and they shall be satisfied, and they shall be comforted.” God wants us to be comforted. God wants us to ascend to His holy hill. He wants us to be satisfied, which is why He gives us instructions so that we can have fellowship with Him. Godly living is the way to enjoying the fullness of a relationship with God and fellowship with Him.
Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father and no one comes to know the Father, but through Me,” because He is the Way. The Cross is the way. The Beatitudes, which are the words to eternal life, is the way. Jesus wants us to see this because He wants us to be satisfied, to be comforted, and to see the kingdom of our God.
There is a pastor in the Philippines who claims that he is the “appointed son of God”. He says, “No one comes to the Father, but through me, by being a member of church.” This is not correct. The way is Jesus, His person, and this is also the way that He showed us – that of humility, peace-making, and loving our enemies.
We are indeed called to be separate, different and peculiar. We are different because we obey God and follow Jesus’ way. Deuteronomy says, “Keep and do the commandments of God because that is your wisdom and understanding.” Wisdom is to follow that which we know is the truth and correct. Wisdom is the correct application of knowledge. If a parent buys his child new school shoes and the child goes to school in bare foot, this is foolishness because he did not use and apply what he knows is correct. If the child wore the shoes on his hand, and went to school barefoot, it is still not correct because he applied it the wrong way. There should be the correct application of knowledge.
If we have the right information, and we don’t correctly apply it, we will look foolish. It is more foolish than one who doesn’t have information. Our witness is the wisdom and understanding that we have in the sight of the peoples. Out of love, we are to make them know to our sons and grandsons. Isaiah 2:2-4 says that we display the witness of God’s people when we walk in His ways, “Now it will come about that in the last days, the mountain of the house of the Lord (the Church) will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it.” This is because the people see us correctly applying the knowledge that God has given us. This will attract the world.
3 And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war.” Nation will not be in war anymore because of the testimony of the children of God who will have a different culture.
Ask yourselves these questions: “Do I only have a form of godliness and I wear a mask inside the Church and take it off outside? Is what I do in Church consistent with my life throughout the week?” This is the matter at hand. Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord? Is it he who kneels and crosses himself and bows and kissed the bishop’s ring, but has venom in his mouth? Or is it he who has a quiet spirit and a pure heart? Do we honor with our lips but our hearts are far away? Do we sit in the Church during the homily but our thoughts are about food or something else? There is nothing wrong with our actions during the Mass, but if they are shallow just as the surface, then, there is something wrong because it is all for show. What we do in our daily lives should come from the inside of our hearts. We are not actors; we are real people. What we are in Church, we are to be everywhere.
Bowing before the Cross means submitting to the will of Jesus and His principles and commands. This is because we love God, and not that we are afraid of the sanctions of the commandments. It is not an incentive program of earning points to have many rewards when we get to heaven, but all about growing in our relationship with God. Stop seeing God as a businessman, a judge or a lawyer, with whom we enter in a legal transaction. He is our Father; He is our husband that we are in a love-relationship with. I pray that love relationship manifest in the way we live our lives, not just in Church, not just in the Altar, not just when we are wearing vestments, but our everyday living in the kingdom of God because this is precisely the way it is in that Kingdom.