Which is more important to God- clean hands or a clean mind and heart?

by Fr. Francis Huwn Msfs

Reflection on the 22nd Sunday, Year B

Deut 4:1-2, 6-8
Ps. 14:2-5
James 1:17-18, 21-22,27
Mk. 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Devotion is an expressions of godliness, holiness and sanctity of one’s life. Devotion also refers to the activities like prayers, observances and the sacramental life of Christians. In short, religion is all about one’s devotion to the Lord. We all seek devotion because it is a virtue very pleasing to God. Abel pleases the Lord for his honest offerings (Gen 4:4).

Our parish community is a mixer of faithful: some belongs to Christmas and Easter Christians, some are committed leaders, some are at the forefront in matters related to donations and contributions; in kind and cash, some are committed in all church activities yet avoid confession and Holy Communion and yet some are not affected but remain cold and indifferent and enjoys every bit of parish celebrations. These are the types of devotions probably visible before us.

The words of St. Francis de Sales is still relevant today: “One who is in the habit of fasting will think that because he fasts he is very devout, even though his heart is filled with hatred. He will not take a sip of wine, or even of water, anxious about sobriety but he or she has no scruples to sip the blood of his neighbour by speaking ill or by false statements. Another considers himself devout because of the very great number of prayers he recites every day, even though soon after this he speaks words that are annoying, full of pride and hurtful to those in his house and to his neighbours. Another very gladly opens his purse to give alms to the poor but cannot take any gentleness from his heart to forgive his enemies. Yet another will forgive his enemies but will not pay what he owes unless he is legally forced to do so. All such persons are generally looked upon as devout whereas in fact they are not. There is one true devotion while there is a very large number of false and meaningless ones.”

When Saul’s soldiers came looking for David in his house, Michal placed a statue on a bed and covered it with David’s clothes and so made them believe that it was David himself asleep due to illness (1 Sam 19:11-16). In the same way, many people cover themselves with various external actions related to holy devotion. The world takes them for people who are truly devout and spiritual,. Whereas in reality they are nothing more than statues and illusions of devotion. ( St. Francis de Sales).

The Scribes and Pharisees were upset with Jesus because he allowed his disciples to break with their ritual traditions by eating with unclean hands. They accused Jesus and confronted him. Jesus was not silent but gave a fitting reply by specifying two things:
First of hypocrisy. Like actors, who put on a show, they appear to obey God’s word in their external practices while they inwardly harbour evil desires and intentions. Indirectly, Jesus affirms, “Which is more important to God – clean hands or a clean mind and heart?”
Secondly, Jesus refers them to the prophecy of Isaiah (29:31) where the prophet accuses the people of his day for honouring God with their lips while their hearts were far away from choosing and doing what God asked of them. One could sing the best songs, pray in loudest voice and use the best vocabularies and fine speeches. But true religion doesn’t consists in external expressions and observances alone. External expression doesn’t make a person holy before God.

Jesus points his listeners to the source of true defilement – evil desires which come from inside a person’s innermost being. Sin does not happen. It first springs from the innermost recesses of our thoughts and intentions, from the secret desires which only the individual soul can conceive. It’s the heart that contaminates the person.

We have recently concluded the diocese Pilgrimage. On my way back to parish, I asked my youth what made this pilgrimage a memorable one. They responded unanimously that it was the reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation to which I was pleased to know. The fact is that we have lot of rituals and ceremonies which are attractive and gratifying to our senses. These activities may help, but they do not make a person truly holy and devote just by themselves.

Today, the word of God invites us to leave no stone unturned so as to keep our hearts clean and pure. How often do we seek the sacrament of Reconciliation? Which is more important to God – clean hands or a clean mind and heart?
“The mouse doesn’t become holier just because it sleeps at the attic of the Church.”