Psalm 50:1, 8, 12-13, 14-15
I think the theme of the readings for today might be “internal versus external.” We can know pretty well what a thing is by what it does. As is said, “If it walks like a duck and squawks like a duck, then it probably is a duck!” Externals such as these do reveal the interior, but not so quick! What about us persons?
Ah, with us it is a different play. We can express our interiors authentically or in varying degrees of pretense. Our external actions can easily be the opposite of our interior awareness. We can put sensors on our feelings; we can adjust our actions to what might please others. Our “amens” at today’s liturgy can be sincere at one time, but at another, we might not even know to what we are agreeing. Self-awareness and self-possession are often fleeting and we are not always aware of their being gone.
Today we return to Ordinary Time and we hear from the Prophet Hosea in the First Reading. His Jewish community has been drifting away, as humans do. He hears their shallow words of returning, but they do not mean it sincerely. They are saying that “they ought to, kind of, it would be nice if they..., God is good so what the heck,” kind of phrasings. There really does not have to be much self-work on their part and their resistance and selfishness can continue. Hosea has a few good words from God for them in response.
It is well for us to listen to these words and take them to our insides. Piety, “strict religious observances” without interior love and gentle actions are contrary to the interior of God. God is love, as we pray in today’s Communion verse, and the actions which flow from this Love are authentic and sincere. Unfortunately, we are not as consistent and whole as God.
What God wants is our being aware of God’s love and imitate it as we can. So perhaps less work on the outside and more around the heart. Acts of love have to flow from love. Hosea is calling his people and ourselves to a wake-up and smell God’s love for us, summons. The ritual sacrifices are not enough, he tells them, what God desires is compassion, forgiveness, gentleness, a conversion of heart so that then our actions will be real.
Today’s Gospel has a double call; one to the tax collector, Matthew, and the other to the Pharisees. Tax collectors are religious and civic sinners. They are as hated by the Jews as were “them Revenooers” in the old Moonshine movies. They collected money from the Jews for the Romans who were occupying their country and they probably skimmed off the top as well. Matthew is one of them and Jesus invites him into His new company; His new collection agency. As if this is not bad enough, Jesus goes into Matthew’s house for a meal and other tax agents join them.
The second call takes place when the Pharisees, the religious agents of the Jews, arrive and ask the Disciples about this new apparently religious person, conversing and actually eating with such sinners. Jesus overhears their inquiry and tells them to learn from their own Scriptures about the meaning of the text, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Jesus is doing what He came to do and He continues that ministry in our lives.”
A fellow told me recently that he didn’t go to church any more, because there were nothing but hypocrites there. When I told him, there was always room for one more, he didn’t see the invitation as meant for him. All the Sacraments of the Church, all of God’s grace, all religious practices are meant to form and reform our interior, spiritual lives. Jesus once said that out of the heart the mouth speaks. All our good actions are religious and flow from the inside to the out. Here is an important difference though. Doing outward acts such as prayer and the works of mercy and charity, do assist gracefully the forming of the spirit within. We are to do the works of love so as to be seen and God’s love be accepted and reverenced. Doing religious deeds so as to be seen and ourselves be accepted and reverence, while quite human, is of the Pharisees. Not doing religious works perfectly, or for other selfish reasons might be hypocritical in the eyes of some, but the words of Jesus assist us hypocrites in our fragility, “Mercy not sacrifice.” In other words, compassion is more important than external observances.
So, take your pick, Pharisee or hypocrite, tax collector or Pharisee,
internal or external? All have their place, but which comes first
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