“And now, O Israel, give heed to the statutes and the ordinances which I teach you and do them; that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 4:1)
One of the biggest challenges facing Christianity today is what St. James refers to as SELF-DECEPTION in today’s second reading and what Jesus Christ refers to as LIP SERVICE in our Gospel passage. How do we get entangled with self-deception and lip-service? And how can we avoid falling into such traps? These are some of the lessons we shall learn today.
1. Forget the Outside and Look inwards.
A few years ago, I went to a busy market to purchase a particular electronic device but the more I kept asking for it, the more I was being referred elsewhere. I was almost giving up until one shop owner told me to wait while he checks his warehouse. After about thirty minutes, the man came back full of smiles with the very device I had asked for. I was happy at first but seeing what he was holding, my happiness dampened. It looked like something he picked from the dustbin. I asked him: “Sir, this doesn’t look original to me oh…”
I was still speaking when he quickly cut in and said: “Oga, na wetin dey inside na you dey buy oh, no be the carton.” That was a moment of enlightenment for me. This is exactly the point Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel passage. “It is not what goes into a man from outside that defiles him; but the things which come from within.”
Now let’s ask ourselves: What is inside me? How pure is my heart? What efforts do I make each day to purify my mind of evils such as immoral thoughts, pornographic images, wicked imaginations, vengeful feelings, criminal moves, deceptive tricks to dupe people etc.?
2. You Are Not Who You Say You Are, You Are What You Do.
We live in a world of “Packaging.” We are like people who paint our houses beautifully but bring in deadly snakes into our bedrooms. At an ordination ceremony some time ago, a young man was caught trying to steal a car but what was so shocking was that he was dressed as a Seminarian. Packaging.
Once upon a time, a man sued his wife to court demanding for ten million dollars. This woman won a beauty contest and the man being a successful businessman decided to marry her. Their wedding was the talk of the town. Everything went well until the day this woman gave birth. The man could not believe his eyes. The baby had no resemblance whatsoever to its mother, that was when the woman confessed that her beauty was a result of plastic surgery. Packaging.
Is there a contradiction between my carton (my packaging) and my real self? Do I project myself as a saint before others whereas I am a demon inside in my heart? How long do I hope to continue deceiving myself thinking I am fooling people?
4. Be Wise, Keep God’s Commandments, avoid Secrecy.
Let us reason together, wouldn’t it be better not to have a skeleton in your cupboard than to wake up one day and find that the skeleton you kept is now haunting you like a ghost? Why live a double life? Every secret has a life-span. Jesus tells us: “For nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Matthew 10:26)
Is there something bad I am planning to do now that I wouldn’t want people to know or hear about it? God is saying to you right now: DON’T DO IT. Am I in a relationship with someone and I am trying so hard to keep it secret? God says: END IT. Are there certain things on my phone which I wouldn’t want my spouse to see? God says: REMOVE THEM. Secrecy leads to self-deception and lip service.
4. Render Only Pure Worship to God.
Moses says in today’s first reading: “Keep them (the commandments) and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding.” This means we are foolish when we disobey God’s commandments. In fact, Jesus says rendering worship with hearts defiled is vain; useless to God, a waste of time.
So how do we render Pure Worship to God? St. James answers: CHARITY to the orphans, widows, the afflicted, the needy etc. (Corporal Works of Mercy) alongside PURITY; freedom from immorality in our world. If we cannot help people and we do not keep ourselves from worldliness, our going to church, our night vigils, our singing and dancing, tithes and offerings, are in vain!
Let us pray: O my good Jesus, I repent of my life of secrecy and religion of hypocrisy. Strengthen my resolve to render you only pure worship from this day. Amen.
Bible Study: Deuteronomy 4:1-2.6-8, Ps. 33, James 18:21-22.27 & Mark 7:1-8.14-15.21-23).