A few weeks ago in the run-up to the annual technical review, I led my team in conducting a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis and the most common weakness that came out is Inconsistency. The team realized that this is the most common reason for the problems that came in the way of achieving excellence and high results. While I had known this already, I made sure that it was a realization among the team members, for only then can we accept and tackle actions towards achieving our goal of becoming better and better at what we do.
In the Gospel (Mk. 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23), the Lord reacted to the Pharisees and scribes with strong remarks for over-emphasizing the letter of the Law rather than the intention for which the Law was made. The Pharisees observed that some of Jesus’ disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. The Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the ‘tradition of the elders’. So they questioned him, ‘Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?’ Jesus responded strongly, even quoting Scriptures, “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.”
The fault of the priestly class at that time was on placing the emphasis on the action rather than on the reason for the action. Jesus was not saying that washing was bad but that the emphasis was wrong, and not in a way that is consistent with the intention. The Lord’s words about the food people ate didn’t necessarily dismiss the idea of cleanliness but again highlighted an incorrect interpretation and application of the law. He clarified that,
‘Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.’
That is, the evil thoughts and actions of the people come from within themselves, from within their hearts, rather than through the food they consume. As we look at the daily news, we read bad things happening, we see people reach breaking point and mess up, we see people fall in different ways. When encountering challenges and difficulties, people often give in to the easiest way out, which are more often than not straying away from the Lord. People do give in easily to the desire to seek vices to fill those voids in the soul thinking that this will cure the sickness. Once you’ve started the wrong habit it may be harder to get out.
In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, we see that Moses has given the people the Ten Commandments and the various other Laws and he encourages the Israelites to be faithful to them. They are not to add or subtract but are to live them as the Lord gave and intended them, to see the wisdom that they contain. By observing them carefully, it will give evidence of wisdom and intelligence to the other nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’
In the Second Reading, St. James exhorts us to ‘Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.’
And so the readings remind us that the Commandments of God are meant not to make it difficult for us but to give us life, and to improve the quality of life which we are open for the taking.
Heaven can only be reached by keeping the Commandments of God, which is possible only by His grace. God’s awesome grace is what we need to look for every day, because it is in doing so that we become better, make others happier, and be an inspiration to others as well. God’s grace makes the world better, because without it, the world would have been worse than what it is today. People mess up, but God’s grace does more good infinitely than the evil that is happening every single time.
May these teachings today make us appreciate more the Sacraments for the graces that can heal our hearts and get us closer to God. As Cardinal Chito Tagle said in one of his talks, ‘You can choose to be peace-seeking, rather than add to the divisiveness prevailing in the world today’; so we can become an inspiration, not just to those that share what we believe in. May we become consistent in our faith, putting into action what we believe in, so that others may appreciate more God’s grace and wisdom in our lives.
‘The Father willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.’ (Jas. 1: 18)