Hearts, Minds, Deeds
Going beyond outward actions in our faith
We come to explore this Sunday a Gospel reading that is, perhaps, one that many fundamentalists and non-believers would always love to throw, oftentimes vehemently, at the Church. It’s an all too familiar image of the Pharisees questioning and challenging Jesus. What is surprising in this Gospel episode is this: they question Jesus and his companions for eating with unclean hands and disregarding the cleansing ritual before having their meals, not so much about the good that Jesus did. It is almost like nitpicking every little detail they could possibly find to question Jesus and his authority.
One might wonder: “But what is wrong with that? After all, it is but normal to prepare ourselves, to be clean before we have our meals, so I guess it’s alright for them to question him, right?”
That is also the reason why Jesus strongly responds to the Pharisees, the supposedly learned people and bastions of faith who impose the Jewish law and give utmost importance to tradition. Jesus did not mince his words by calling them hypocrites, citing Isaiah to describe the kind of people they are.
But see, Jesus was never going after tradition. His reference of Isaiah and what he wanted to teach was clear as day:
“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:
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.
You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
A proper understanding of these words of Isaiah would make clear what Jesus is truly after. In fact, the key words in these verses from Isaiah give away what Jesus is truly aiming at, and it’s not so much about tradition or outward appearances of worship being considered wrong, but a misplaced heart and a misguided reason in practicing these traditions.
The Church is rife with tradition, practices that have dated back to the time of Christ, the Apostles, and the early Church Fathers. It’s perhaps why it makes us an easy target of fundamentalists and non-believers, and they’d unceasingly feast on that as a way to attack the Church.
Be that as it may, but I think one question we can ask ourselves as Catholics is this: “Do we worship the God of the tradition, or do we worship the tradition?”
Worshipping God, and giving Him the highest possible honor we can as human beings is a work of the heart, mind, and body in one. Outward appearances but bereft of the intent will never count, but a conscious effort to align and direct them towards God will always be meritorious, no matter how imperfect it may be for us as humans. We simply let God make it perfect through grace.
So, if we have become too engrossed with the tradition that we fully neglect God, do we then eradicate tradition? That’s honestly a very simplistic, lazy, and wrong way to strive to focus on God. Because then it simply shows that tradition isn’t the problem. The practices aren’t the problem. What we have stood for as Catholics isn’t the problem. The problem is more about us.
I remember asking myself once, “Do I worship the service, or do I worship the God of the service?”
Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves that more often. That way, we are always reminded that the focus of all that we do must be towards love of God and neighbor, the highest commandments that He has given us.