Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Without and within

While He (Jesus) was speaking, a Pharisee asked Him to dine with Him; so He went in and sat at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that He did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold everything is clean for you." -Luke 11:37-41 I was serving Mass yesterday evening, and I was tired after a day at work and sleepy and it was very warm, especially under the layers of cassock, surplice and street clothes. When the Gospel reading began, I thought it was the familiar white-washed tombs reading. But a closer listen showed something different.

How much more ashamed would my Lord be if called upon to claim me as one of His own before His Father, me a sinner. And I was ashamed to claim to be a follower of My Lord and God? How stupid can I be? I now make the sign of the Cross, not to show off, but to own up to being a Christian, a follower of the Crucified one. It was not easy. It was a process that took time. I was still very reticent about drawing attention to myself and it took great effort of mind and will to do it, consistently. But in doing so, it forced be to guard by behaviour and my manners, to be worthy of that great sign of our salvation. It's the same reason I wear a crucifix. I kneel down to pray, not to show off, but that's the way I was taught to pray. We kneel when approaching our Maker and Creator. Despite what others might think or what others might be doing and even if no one does it. Not to feel superior, but because it's the way our conscience dictates that God should be approached and while our bodies can still do so, let us kneel!. If it becomes something that's too easy, something done without thought, then stop. If it's done to glorify yourself, then stop. But if it's difficult, if it's not something that you really want to do cos it draws attention, it makes you guard your tongue and your behaviour, then consider doing the externals.
The Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner and Jesus did not perform the ritual ablution but dived straight in. I guess the poor Pharisee let his astonishment show for he was in for a very stern rebuke. On the surface, the message, now familiar, should be pretty clear. It's a message that those who tend to neglect the outward elements of the faith, be it attending Mass, praying, fasting, wearing a crucifix or even dressing decently often fling in the face of those of us who either do those things or try to promote them. It's what's inside that's important, it's the heart (or thought) that counts. Cut all the externals and focus on the internals and stop being so legalistic and Pharisaical and all will be fine. A closer reading firstly reveals that the message cuts both ways! "You fools! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?" So, the dish should be cleaned on the outside AND inside. For God not only made the heart, but the body as well and what is in our heart should be manifested outwardly, not in a showy, self-serving and self-promoting way like the Pharisee who prayed loudly on the steps of the Temple extolling his own righteousness in contrast to the tax-collector, but in al way that should come naturally.
What's inside will come through and will shine through. In a non-Christian country like Malaysia, wearing the external symbols of the faith, such as a crucifix brings no benefit to the wearer but instead serves as a proclamation and a visible sign of the Christian faith. When the authorities are so afraid of letting crosses be erected on the tops of Churches, this tangible presence of Christianity and Christ and the sacred in the public square is something that should be promoted. Similarly, making the sign of the Cross in public, especially when we pass by a Church. It reminds ourselves and others of the Presence that dwells within those walls. It's not an easy thing to do. It draws attention. And for many of us, the last thing we want to do is to draw attention to ourselves. Especially when you're an adolescent. I can relate to that. When I was a kid, I was taught to make the sign of the Cross when passing by a Church. When I grew older, the gestures became smaller and faster until it was no more than a small sign made by my fingers over my heart (when no one was looking). However, one day, when I was taking the bus, I noticed a lady making a prominent sign of the Cross as we passed a Church, and everyone was looking. I remembered feeling very very ashamed, for being ashamed. I was ashamed of the sign of the Cross, ashamed of what others might think and in so doing, forgot how my Lord must have felt to see me 'deny' Him in public.

The Gospel reading reminded me that yes, although what's inside is important, what we do externally is important as well. It's doubly hard to be a Christian inside and out, to be clean inside and out. But we are psycho-somatic beings, we are not disembodied spirits, but beings of both body and soul. That unity should always be manifested in all we do, for the greater glory of God.

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