B Cycle – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time 21
Mk. 9:38-43, 45; 47-48
Is it possible that we could miss living a life God is calling us to live even as we faithfully follow and adhere to a standard of faith everyone would describe as holy? If you look at the things Jesus said to the Pharisees, you know the answer to that question is yes. We have been deceived into believing we need to practice our faith by an adherence to a standard of “holiness.” A standard defined by conforming to rules and decorum which leaves us away from not into the life Jesus calls us to live. A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus responding to the Pharisees “it is what comes out of a person which defiles them, for within out of a person’s heart comes, evil thoughts, fornication, theft, adultery, murder, greed, lewdness, deceit, envy, malice, slander, arrogance and folly.” (Mk.7:20-21). How do we cut off our inner self, our internal desires, thoughts, and the yearnings of our heart? Jesus is telling us how a radical change is needed in our understanding of sin and what God desires us to become.
Jesus was not recommending we mutilate our bodies so we do not sin but instead he is telling us we must take dramatic action to keep growing in holiness. We need to do more than follow rules, we need a spiritual discipline which allows God to take our stony hearts and replace them with hearts that yearn for God (EZ.36:26). But disciplining ourselves is still no guarantee we will be holy according to o God’s standard of holiness. We may meet the standard of the Pharisees but that is not what God desires.
God was very clear as he repeatedly said he does not desire our sacrifice or obedience, our adherence to rituals instead he wants our hearts. God wants that place within us where our passion resides. That place within us that drives us to sin must be touched by the hand of God before it can become the source of our holiness.
The truth is we can say no to those passions which drives us to sin. We can say no to that desire to explore our sexuality, to watch those explicit sites on the internet or on our TV package for an additional charge. We can say no to all the temptations to lie, to cheat, to slander, for greed, for pride, for violence and for revenge as we desire to exact pain for pain received. Jesus is telling us we need to do more than confess those sins, he is telling us we need to be aggressive in disciplining ourselves and root them from our lives by using what God provides us for holiness.
We do not need a strong will if we only use what God has provided for us for our holiness. That is the amazing thing which we have somehow not been told, God’s plan for us to avoid sin has been given to us and promised to us by God. We can overcome sin and have our eyes opened to see how the law deceives us into believing we are better than we are.
The truth is God knows our hearts are selfish and prone to sin. God tells us our stubborn hearts will always lead us to do evil (Ps. 81:2). Yet, God also has destined us for glory if only we can learn to depend on him for out holiness. In the scriptures God reveals to us how much we not only needed a savior, but how much we need the Holy Spirit to move us to understand how to live the redeemed life. Jesus in the upper room told us he would send us the Spirit and it would teach us the truth about sin, righteousness, and condemnation (Jn.16: 8-11). The Spirit will write God’s law on our hearts and by doing so we will no longer need discipline to follow God’s will.
This internal conversion of our hearts is not something we can accomplish by our own will power of strict discipline. It is the product of a new desire fueled by the Holy Spirit, creating a hunger and thirst for righteousness.
The Spirit will move us to surrender ourselves over to its guidance. The Holy Spirit will guard our hearts and set them on fire. It is a surrender to the one who will pour the love of God into our hearts and totally change our understanding of where sin resides in us. It is a surrender to the one who will teach us and open our eyes to the reality of who we are, sons and daughters loved by God. We will see the ugliness of our sins, minor as they might be, they are a filth that clings to us and keeps us from experiencing all God desires us to experience. It will reveal to us how God washes us clean and clothes us with righteousness.
We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived because we faithfully adhere to forms of worship and use them as an outward sign of our holiness. Our holiness comes from the source of all holiness and that is the Holy Spirit alone.
If we stray from our dependence on the Spirit to animate our prayer, to enlighten our minds as we listen to God speaking to us. If we stray from depending on the Spirit to reveal to us how much more of our sinfulness remains to be cleansed from us, then we have become Pharisees not disciples. We need to understand the Pharisees not only were totally dependent on the law to define their holiness but by doing so they denied Christ.