Doers More Than Hearers
Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
There is a story about a saint who, while still alive, was granted the privilege of seeing heaven. He was at the entrance, waiting for St. Peter. While waiting, he walked around, and was very surprised to see hundreds of thousands of human ears hanging all over the place. He managed to ask an angel about those ears. And the angel replied: “Those ears belong to people who were good listeners of the Gospel of Jesus. They loved to listen to the Word of God. But they did not practice what they heard. So, it’s only their ears that are here.”
Jesus said: “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will my heavenly Father.” Following Jesus is not a matter of listening, or talking. Rather, it is a matter of doing and obeying God’s will. In the second reading, the Apostle Saint James exhorts us: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. For, if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. He sees himself then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like. But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25).
This was precisely the problem with the Pharisees. They were good listeners and good preachers of the word of God. But they were not doers. After all, listening and preaching are easier than doing what the word of God tells us. Abraham Lincoln once said that you can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. But there is one person we can easily fool all the time: our own self. Saint James was very clear on this: “Act on this word. If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves.”
Jesus gives us the truth. He did not vacillate nor mince words. He calls a spade a spade. In our first reading today from Deuteronomy Moses says, “In your observance of the commandments of the Lord, your God . . . you should not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.” The Pharisees were definitely guilty of this self-deception, and worse, also of deceiving others. They were guilty of adding, subtracting and distorting God’s commandments in order to make themselves look good and to easily condemn others. They were quick in criticizing others for not observing the ritual washing of hands, as if unwashed hands are worse than unclean hearts. So Jesus pointed out directly: “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile” (Mark 7:14-15). And he went on to mention the sins that most of us are prone to fall into: “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly” (Mk 7:21f.).
It is said that in order to know if the gold ring you bought is genuine, just dip it in vinegar. If the ring does not fade, you’ve got a genuine gold ring. But if it fades, you’ve got genuine vinegar!
The world nowadays has been very successful in deceiving us. We have learned to live with ambiguity, double meanings and double standards, especially in matters of morality and spirituality. We have managed to justify our sins and make them appear and sound harmless by the adroit use of words and concepts. Abortion is no longer called murder, but “reproductive rights”, euthanasia which was called “mercy killing” (a contradiction in terms) is now referred to as “compassion for the terminally ill”, greed is “retirement planning”, deceit is just “a few white lies” or “face saving”, unchastity is just one “lifestyle”, and pride or arrogance is considered as “self-esteem.”
The readings this Sunday invite us to have sincere and honest examination of conscience. Once and for all, let us set ourselves free from self-deception. Let the word of God, without adding or omitting anything from it, guide us to the truth, no matter how ugly and painful it is. For the truth will set us free and lead us to true repentance and conversion of hearts. The time has come to stop being mere listeners, but doers and followers of the word of God. Then, as St. James said, we will be blessed in all we do.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002