Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 2, 2018)
Today, we leave John’s “bread of life” discourse and return to Mark. Jesus has a few last words to the people of Galilee - the northern area of Palestine where he grew up. It is the last incident mark records of Jesus’ Galilean ministry - just before he headed south to Judea and its capital, Jerusalem, where he would die.
Mark shows the growing opposition of the Jews, instigated by the Jewish, religious leaders who had “come from Jerusalem.” The drama is building.
His listeners were unsettled because the Jerusalem crowd was reminding them of “the tradition of the elders.” The tradition of the elders was the Halakah, the oral law. In the second century, this would be written down as the Mishnah.
The purification/washing rites we heard in the Gospel were the Jewish leaders’ interpretations of the law of God, not the law. Sadly, these were being given equal importance to the law itself [the Torah]. Those washing rituals were meant to express a purification of the heart, not to substitute for it. They had been initially prescribed for the Levites [priests] and were later extended to include all Israelites.
The failure of Jesus’ disciples to observe these purification rites occasions the criticism from the Jews. Jesus quotes Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.”
What Jesus asks of them - and us - is simple, but profound and challenging. He wants our hearts. The heart is the center of a person for Jews as well as for us.
Jesus knows well that they and we can appear innocent, look like true followers, but our face does not mirror our heart. We may have an innocent smile on the outside, but our heart, our interior disposition, can be a mess. We may have the words, but not the music. We may carefully observe external rules within our religion, but our hearts, our internal disposition, can be seething with self-will.
What drives your heart? My heart? That question and its answer are what the work of lent is about. Today’s gospel raises this issue toward the end of vacation season. This is the time of year when many activities resume. This time of year is appropriate for a mini spiritual review. The question is Jesus’; our answer is the product of self- examination to produce self-knowledge. Knowledge of self is vital for both spirituality and sanity.
What drives our hearts, our center? The Gospel provided a list for us: evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, deceit, envy, arrogance.” Very strong drives.
There are other more subtle drives / drivers of our hearts: religious indifference, because I put self-wants before God’s or neighbor’s. Sloth, because it is just too much work. My persona, because I do not want to appear to others as if I am hot on God. It may be ignorance: too often, we confuse the end, relationship, with the means, laws and devotions that get us into spiritual trouble.
We are often not aware of some of these drivers. They simply slip quietly into our lives without conscious effort. They may belittle our dark side that needs to be brought into the light by introspection. Once in the light, they are seen for what they are: barriers to becoming who we are called to be.
William Glasser developed a method he called “reality therapy” that focuses on changing our behavior patterns. He calls it “positive addiction,” and gave the examples of jogging and meditation. Beginning either of these or any new discipline is difficult. As we continue jogging or meditating, it becomes easier. If we stick with it, it becomes a healthy addiction that we simply cannot seem to do without.
This practice has a spin-off in the spiritual life. An ancient, nameless, wise person said: “The act is the parent of the habit; the habit is the parent of the virtue.” Perseverance is key. Per-severa: through the hard/severe stuff to habitually praying, doing good, attending mass.
As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” This time of year is a good time for a heart check-up.