Today’s gospel talks of the religious laws that abounded at the time of Jesus – washing arms, sprinkling with water, the washing of cups and pots, and so forth. In fact, there is nothing wrong with any of these things in themselves. There is something profoundly grounding about acknowledging that bread and water are gifts from God, by blessing myself and giving thanks for the food with which I am gifted, and which keeps me alive. And if I bless myself as I leave and enter my house am I not inviting God to walk with me wherever I go and to return and stay with me when I return. These actions awaken me to the God who is ever-present.
However, the gospel reminds us that these ritual laws can be reduced to a mere legalism where their performance is more important than the reality to which they are directed: love of God and love of neighbour. Jesus so often criticises hypocrisy. On the one hand, people can carry out religious rituals while their hearts remain hard and their doctrines miss the mark of the twin commandment of love of God and love of neighbour. Jesus, on the other hand, calls his followers to an internalisation of the commandments of God. They are to flow from the heart, just as evil intentions also flow from the heart.
As Christians, we are called to enter into a relationship with Christ who reveals to us the God of forgiveness and who calls us to enter more deeply into our humanity and discover who the Lord is calling us to be. But sometimes it is easier for us to make God into who we want God to be. Then we can be tempted to think, instead, that God simply wants us to follow a set of rules. We tell ourselves “if I just do these things or say these prayers or perform these acts then God will be happy and I will have God where I want him, and all will be well.” God, however, seems to have other plans. The God of the gospel calls people out of their daily lives and routines to come and follow. The God of the gospels asked followers to look beyond the external and look deeply into the hearts and minds of each person. The God of the gospel calls us beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. That call brings with it a new freedom and new responsibilities. I cannot just follow a law to express my faith. My faith instead, becomes who I am and what I do. My faith flows from my heart and into the hearts of others. So if you want to know if a person is holy or not see what comes out of their heart.
Fr Brendan Reed