A Reading from James.
Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget, but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing.( James 1:17-27.
The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark.
When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)
So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”
He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly 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 human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Then Jesus called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mk 7:1-8, 15, 21-23)
Have you watched that television program Holmes on Homes? This contractor by the name of Holmes, H-O-L-M-E-S , goes into someone’s newly renovated home, H-O-M-E, after some problem has been reported, and he rips out the new walls, ceilings, a roof in one instance, and you wonder if he is going to demolish the whole house, and he shows you the slipshod work underneath the wallboard, or plaster: the dampness not addressed, the wiring incorrectly and unsafely installed, the plumbing threatening to flood the place, and so on.
And he says what has to be done to put it right. He does do a good job of highlighting the dangers – and the cost – of using a poor quality contractor.
Mark tells us a story of Jesus today where he basically does the same thing as Holmes.
Some really religious people have heard about this man Jesus and have come from Jerusalem to check him out.
They have noticed that Jesus’ disciples, some of them, ate without washing their hands. And they question this as if it is some serious felony or something. They ask Jesus about it.
What does he do? He doesn’t bother to defend his brothers; he goes on the offensive against these self- righteous hypocrites and stripping aside their façade of righteousness exposes the lack of goodness beneath.
It’s like the former contractor who did the work in the person’s house that is being featured in the Holmes and Homes program. He did a good job of plastering over the defects, and on the surface what he did looked pretty solid and workmanlike. But underneath, flaws and faults and carelessly done work, and problems galore are hidden away.
‘Hey, ‘Jesus tells the Pharisees, ‘ You try so hard to look good on the outside, You dress the part, you pray in the streets, you attend the synagogue conscientiously, you observe all the rules that humans have put in place, such as the hand-washing rituals, but all that does is hide from the world the real person inside,
It’s what’s inside your heart that counts, he tells them.
That’s where evil thoughts, vulgar deeds, stealing, murder, unfaithfulness in marriage, greed, meanness, deceit, indecency, envy, insults, pride and foolishness come from.
Your heart is what you should be worrying about. Be more concerned at what comes out of your heart than what goes into your mouth.
Wash your hands, avoid germs, keep up attendance at church, observe the rules about behaviour, the Sabbath and so on, and you will look good, but it’s much more important to be pure on the inside than to look good on the outside.
To paraphrase Forrest Gump’s mother’s, good is as good does.
There was a politician once who used Christian vocabulary. He talked about the blessing of the Almighty and the Christian principles which would become the pillars of his new government. He was earnest, like a man weighed down by historic responsibility. He handed out pious stories to the press, especially to the church papers. He showed his tattered Bible and declared that he drew the strength for his great work from that book, and scores of pious people welcomed him as a man sent from God.
In fact, Adolf Hitler was a master of looking religious on the outside.
Was there ever any question about the evil that Hitler did? And yet the picture he projected of himself in the early days fooled millions.
Would that someone had ripped away his façade and showed the rottenness inside. Who he was and what he represented became clear soon enough, but by then it was too late.
And do you know something that is fascinating? Facades don’t always work. They don’t always conceal what we don’t want revealed.
There are cases documented where children have in some uncanny fashion faithfully copied their parents in terms of morals, behaviour, success or failure in marriage, even though their parents thought they had concealed those patterns of behaviour from them.
Some thing, some hint, some subtle signs not apparent on a conscious level, had influenced children to the extent that they behaved when grown up almost exactly as their parents had done. It’s scary, isn’t it?
Good is as good does. There goes Missus Gump again.
Don’t waste time working to look good, instead work to be good.
James, the half-brother of Jesus has something to add to our understanding of Mark’s story about Jesus’ lessons on how to live.
He seems to be presenting us with rules for life: stop doing anything immoral or evil, be humble, obey God’s message, control your tongue, listen and obey, help needy orphans and widows, and don’t let this world make you evil.
Isn’t this what the Pharisees were doing? Obeying the rules, the laws of Moses?
Yes and no. They obeyed on the face of it, but they did so out of a need to appear holy, not out of love in their hearts. They condemned people on the fringes: sinners, those who had been dealt with severely by life, those who had no money, were sick or disabled, who were not blessed – they thought – by God.
What they did, they did in the name of Heaven, and that was their justification.
When they heard Jesus’ words, about their hypocrisy, about their lack of love, their lack of compassion, did it ring a bell? Did they change? I don’t think so.
They could always find a good reason for doing the wrong thing.
James tells us that we should not only listen to the message that comes from God, but that we should be changed by it.
Having the love of God in our heart, should influence how we live and relate to others.
Having the love of God in our hearts we should want to share it with others. Help them know His love.
Having the love of God in our hearts should help us stand up for the oppressed, for the poor, refugees, the homeless, the hopeless – for what is right.
If we aren’t doing that, then what are we doing?
There is a song, popular in the sixties, I think it was, that tells about hypocrisy, that tells about greed, that tells of how people can always find justification for doing the wrong thing.
Do you remember One Tin Soldier, by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter?
Listen children to a story,
That was written long ago
‘Bout a kingdom on a mountain,
And the valley far below.
On the mountain was a treasure,
Buried deep beneath a stone,
And the valley people swore
They’d have it for their very own.
So the people of the valley,
Sent a message up the hill,
Asking for the buried treasure,
Tons of gold for which they’d kill.
Came an answer from the kingdom,
“With our brothers we will share,
All the secrets of the mountain,
All the riches buried there.”
Now the valley cried with anger,
“Mount your horses, draw your swords,”
And they killed the mountain people,
So they won their just reward.
As they stood beside the treasure,
On the mountain, dark and red,
Turned the stone and looked beneath it,
’Peace on Earth’ was all it said.
(And here is the chorus:)
Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing,
Come the Judgment Day.
On the bloody morning after,
One tin soldier rides away.
(Today in the Word, June 3, 1989 )