In the Gospel, the Pharisees appear to misunderstand the point of the Law. They accused Jesus of breaking the Law when He let His followers eat their meals without going through the prescribed washing rituals. Jesus’ response was that it is not what goes into one that makes one defiled. He said, “...the things that come out from within are what defile.” What He was saying was that our words and deeds are what constitute sin, not how we eat or whether we follow all the rituals before a meal. He further spelled it out by indicating sinful behaviors that come from the heart, such as deceit, arrogance, evil thoughts, envy, theft, etc., are what make one unclean or sinful. (Mark 7:21-23) Our motivations and behaviors are either leading us to God or away from Him, and if we want to come closer to God, growing in holiness, we need to do that which is a work of love. If we do works of love with our hands a bit dirty it is better than washing them to ‘hospital specifications’ and doing selfish, hurtful acts, so to speak.
Just as harmful are the confusing messages we get from those who are the Pharisees of our age who urge us to keep the rules slavishly, “or we are going to hell.” These are the ones who follow the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. They are the ones who insist that unless we pray 'just so,' take on this posture or practice as opposed to that one, and make the rules into our god instead of following the true God of love, then we are not doing what we should be doing. These are the ones who make God into their own image and likeness, as sort of a modern golden calf, rather than taking to heart the message of Jesus. They want everything neat and tidy, so that they never have to do much thinking; they insist we follow the rules for the rules own sake. Unfortunately, life is not neat and tidy. As I said earlier, it is not that we should have no guidelines at all: the law is meant to free us and it is to give us a sense of what is right and wrong. We do need that. But a slavish adherence to it, enthroning the law rather than allowing love to be our guide in how to live that law, is folly.
To walk humbly with God means that we learn how to be people of love and mercy, recognizing that we can do nothing without Him. We are not meant to be slaves, but rather we are meant to be free, leading others to that same freedom which comes from God and from no other source. We need to be like the disciples whose hearts were moved to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, stand up for justice and truth, and to visit the ill, widow, neglected, lonely, and poor. And we need to be willing to share what we have, protect the innocent, take care of the beauty of the earth, share our faith in word and deed, and be filled with gratitude for what we have. This is what it means to live the spirit of the law. We accept the guidelines which we have been given, praying for the wisdom to love as we ought. Just as the disciples had to learn where to put their priorities, we need to learn from Jesus where to put ours. Let us walk this, the narrow road, which is the way to eternal life. Let us not travel alone, but rather let us bring others along with us.
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Friends, in the spirit of Labor Day, I will not be posting an entry next week. I am taking a short break to recharge my ‘writing batteries.’ If you want to check out something in the archives to reflect upon, just click on the month and year from the list at the right and you can re-read a previous entry. I will be back the following week.
The first painting is The Sermon on the Mount by Bl. Fra Angelico.
Following, is one of my own photos of Michelangelo's Moses, which resides in San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome, Italy.
The next painting is St. James the Apostle by Peter Paul Rubens.
After the Rubens, is an inset of a painting called Christ Accused by the Pharisees, by Duccio di Buoninsegua.
Next is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Christ All Merciful. If you have an interest in obtaining a copy you can find it at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/christ-all-merciful-022-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Last is another of my photos, taken at a farm near Noto, Sicily.