Mt. 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Someone asked me recently why we (priests and deacons) never give homilies on sin. I was taken back for a minute as I thought about homilies I have given and homilies I have heard. Then I remembered something from my past, a very good friend and his wife converted to Catholicism because what the church expected of you was clearly defined. That person did not want a homily about sin he wanted a clear definition of what sin was; he wanted clarity; a list of right and wrong. If the rules were clear, we could learn them and follow them without deviation.
We do want to know what offends God and we do want clarity. The ten commandments were simple clear and definite; however, the Pharisees added to them and they became ambiguous. It is also apparent the human heart is so fixed on self we will search for loopholes in the law. Remember the first temptation was “did God really say…”. The righteous Pharisees found a way to find ways around the laws they imposed on others. Jesus knew this deviousness within the hearts of the Pharisees and that is why he constantly chastised them for their duplicity.
The Pharisees sinned against the fourth commandment to honor Father and Mother by dedicating their money to God thus they avoided supporting their parents in their old age. This human tendency to bend the law to suit ourselves is exactly what Jesus is addressing today by pointing out how human precepts become religious rituals and allow us to externally keep the law while internally our hearts are far from God.
Jesus is not telling us tradition is sinful and is to be discarded. In fact, the inspired word of God tells us “hold fast to tradition which you were taught by word of mouth or by letter from us.” (2 Th. 2:15). It would seem these are contradictions and is leading us to spiritual confusion which needs to be clarified so we do not judge one another’s actions as not in keeping with what God desires? Jesus is telling us how to obtain clarity and how to follow what God desires. He is clearing up any confusion between human expectations of what constitutes “following the tradition or following the law.”
The traditions we hold important were handed on to us by the apostles and by divine revelation. The Pharisees however were elevating human dietary laws and human traditions to the status of divine law. With over 2000 years of history we must be aware of the fact some human traditions have found their way into the church. In fact, some of the practices and customs challenged during the reformation were exactly because the reformers thought them not of God but of human origin. In some areas they were right, and, in some areas, they were wrong.
What is important for you and I to grasp is that God has always been more concerned with the disposition of our hearts not how well we can follow some laws while using others for our own benefit. If our hearts were centered on God, if we invite “…the Holy Spirit to write the law on our hearts” (Ex. 36:26) as God promised us it becomes second nature to follow the law and God’s will for us.
Jesus knew the deceitfulness of the human heart would always use outward piety as an shield to evade the obligations of doing God’s will. This piety was exactly what the Pharisees stood behind by declaring their money was for God. What a wonderful and sacrificial thing to do but the reason they did it was pure greed not surrender. However, it appears to those observing them to be a generous and sacrificial offering to God.
Jesus is telling us we can be sinning even as we believe we are being righteous. Let that sink in for a minute; we can be far from doing God’s will and sinning as we outwardly follow human traditions for others to witness our dedication to God.
Jesus shows us this spiritual truth today when he tells us to look into ourselves and see what is lurking within us motivating us to do the opposite of what we outwardly practice. Are we willing to allow God to show us how we sin in so many ways because of greed, lust, malice, licentiousness, slander, pride, arrogance and yes even folly? Folly our inadvertent sins that hurt others by what we do or fail to do.
The truth about sexual sin is how society today has redefined what the act of sex is and what it is not. The truth is society today has redefined a multitude of sinful acts as acceptable but are sinful violations of God’s law.
Because we are made in the image and likeness of God and we have his law written on our hearts we are called to be visible signs of how God can change us from sinners to saints.
Our hearts will always tell us exactly what God requires of us if we are listening to God instead of listening to the worlds standards. God wants us to listen to him and do his will by loving God and loving neighbor. Every day we have the opportunity to not sin by doing God’s will instead of our own. Every day we have the opportunity to choose to give God glory by the way we live our lives. Just like Joshua last week we have an opportunity each morning to say along with Joshua “as for me I will follow the Lord.”
Why don’t we, as ministers of the church, talk about sin or clearly let people know what is human tradition and what is divine tradition? I believe it is because we really do not want to hear the truth. That is why it is important for us to be reading the Scriptures and listening to the truth from God’s mouth. Jesus is telling us today what comes from within us will never be in line with God’s desires until we allow God to change our hearts. These words we hear today are harsh words where Jesus is telling us we can follow the law to a “T” and still be far from God.
He is also telling us we need to look at ourselves and not at others and to quit judging their actions which may not conform to our belief of what it means to be holy. Paul tells us that the law can only point out what sin is. But often we confuse long held human traditions as a must comply with law when it is just something forced upon our behavior by today’s pious Pharisees.