Scripture Reflections

Sunday, September 2, 2012


Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

September 02, 2012

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; James 1:17-18,21-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

In a job interview the boss opened the session with the applicant: “See, we are very keen on cleanliness. Did you wipe your feet on the doormat as you came in?” The applicant said: “Yes, sir. I did”. Then the boss replied: “We are also very keen on truthfulness. But there is no mat at the door. You fail the test”.

The culture of cleanliness

The modern society attaches premium to the value of cleanliness. The saying “cleanliness is next to godliness” is adopted as the gospel principle of the modern business enterprises and market economy. Indeed, we live in an era of cosmetic and sanitary revolution. The markets are flooded with cosmetic and sanitary products. Over 60 percent of the advertisements and commercials on media are on cosmetics sanitary and beauty products. Beauty pageants have become recurrent celebrations of pride and achievements calling every individual on earth to invest in beauty products. The image-conscious culture of our time has trapped us into a web of unwritten laws, traditions and practices regarding beautification, maintenance, sanitization and purification. In the Biblical times, especially the Jewish culture was thriving on well-developed laws and traditions partly from the Torah and mostly from their religious interpretations.  Most of these traditions on ritual cleansing and purification had assumed practical significance as marks of religious perfection. The violation of any of these traditions or laws was considered scandalous and sinful. The Pharisees and scribes confront Jesus with such an issue: the ritual and physical impurity of some of his disciples at the table. The irony of the episode is that the Lord who is the source of sanctifying grace is now accused of impurity by those whose hearts were shown to be unclean!

Purity—the mark of a True Christian

Jesus turned the tables on a legalistic and “image conscious” society by inviting them to check “what is within” even as they present a seemingly clean external. Jesus exposed the paradox of their “clean periphery” and the “unclean center”. In the final analysis it becomes clear that this high culture of purity, in fact, floats and thrives on the low culture of impurities. Further more, Jesus inverts the measure of purity—purity as a virtue does not consist in the cleanliness of the externals such as the body, the clothing, food and the environment, rather in the purity of the inner chamber of the heart. Jesus is not negating the need for external purity, but is emphasizing the order of priority. Physical cleanliness follows the purity of heart. To be a Christian, then, is to be a clean person, pure in thoughts, intentions and dealings. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall have the vision of God” (Mt 5: 8). No wonder, Jesus has made it an imperative for His disciples to wash themselves in the waters of baptism and cleanse in the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit.

This purity is now made possible by three elements: 1) The Word of God, 2) The sacraments, and 3) Charity. 

The Word of God: The Source of Purity

The incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, is the norm and source of purity. He is the Holy One, Who became man that mankind may be made holy. It is in and through Him that we have the vision of God. The fallen humanity, which languishes in the filth of sin, has come to know what it means to be clean and pure by gazing on the Crucified and risen Lord. We have come to understand how to live in purity primarily by accepting the person of Jesus, in His teachings, examples and abiding presence. Indeed, the one who follows the precepts of the Lord will always have His abiding presence (the first reading).

The Word of God sanctifies us from all impurities (1 Timothy 4:5). Keeping the covenantal relationship with God and observing His commandments and precepts will help us live in grace and cleanse our hearts, minds and attitudes. Jesus criticized the Pharisees and scribes for being selective in their acceptance of the Sacred Scripture as they emphasized some traditions and ignored the major precepts of the Law of God. But for the Christians, the Scripture is to be accepted and interpreted in its entirety. St Augustine has warned us of the danger of the selective manner of approaching and interpreting the Scripture, as he said: “If you choose to follow the teachings of Jesus that are appealing to you, and neglect those that are difficult for you to practice, you are not following Jesus, but your own self-interest”. Therefore, know your God and yourself by knowing the Word of God. Read the Bible on a daily basis, reflect on it relating it to your life experiences and live on the commandments and covenant of God. This way you will walk in the path of holiness.

Sacraments: The visible signs of sanctifying grace

Rituals are part of any culture. Christian culture is rooted on sacramental rituals. The seven sacraments of the Church impart to the believer the grace necessary for his/her life. In baptism one is washed clean of all his/her sins and impurities accumulated in his life and shared from the original sin. It is a sacrament of re-birth, being born again as a child of God who is pure, holy and immaculate. The sacrament of reconciliation ritually sanctifies the sinner from all the impurities of his actions and omissions. Repentance is a necessary condition for the sanctifying grace. The Holy Eucharist allows the Christian to enter into the sacrificial grace of Christ, to wash His impurities in the blood of the Divine savior. In the Eucharist, what is impure is made pure and filled with the strength of grace that no more one may live in guilt, sin and impurity. The other sacraments (confirmation, marriage, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick) also impart to the recipient sanctifying grace along with the specific grace necessary for the state of life he/she enters. So, frequent reception of sacraments is necessary for a life of purity.

Love: manifestation of sanctifying grace

Now, rituals, devoid of the spirit can remain just that—rituals. The sanctifying grace of the rituals are to be lived and practiced in the virtue of charity—selfless love. Love has the power to heal and cleanse. Any ritual without love is ineffective. Love impels one to put into action what he/she celebrates in the sacraments. Love teaches us that clean hands and clever minds are not substitutes for a clean conscience. A clean conscience is the manifestation of a loving heart. The nursery rhyme “Clean little hands are nice to see” teaches the children of the beauty of cleanliness, but the “commandment of love” teaches us of the beauty of a life well founded purified in the sacrifice of love. This is what St James asserts to us: Obey the commandments. Be doers, not just listeners of the Word of God. By love and charity we enflesh the Word of God. In your love incarnate the Word of God in the present. We are not only called to read, learn and interpret the scripture, but we are challenged to become the Word by doing God’s Holy Will. This is the essence of our religion. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1: 27)

Heart is the center of purity. We need to avoid the extremities of ritualism and self-validation. Love and rituals are not contradictory. They compliment our life of purity.

How clean am I? Do I pay attention to the purity of my thoughts, words, intentions and dealings as much as I care for the cleanliness and grooming of my body? How often do I notice impurities in my thoughts, words, dealings and intentions? What steps do I take to cleanse my conscience and sanctify my life?

Thought Capsule:

“Show me a people's bathhouses and bathrooms, and I will show you what they desire, what they ignore, sometimes what they fear – and a significant part of who they are.”
(Katherine Ashenburg in her book Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing

Saturday, February 11, 2012



FEBRUARY 12, 2012

Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32; I Corinthians 10: 31-11:1; Mark 1: 40-45

I recall an incident that happened when I was a student of theology, during my seminary days. Our theologate was at Rishikesh, the sacred place of Hindu tradition and spirituality. One fine evening, I sat along the bank of river Ganges, observing the gentle flow of the river and watching the rituals Hindu devotees perform in the river. After a while, I noticed a man who sat across me, intently looking at me. He appeared to be an aristocratic, a man in his forties, and was well dressed. When I smiled at him, he approached me and greeted me, inquired my name and profession. When I said, I am a Catholic undergoing training to be a priest; he sat beside me and asked if he can talk with me for a while. Then he took off his shoes. I was surprised and shocked. Suddenly, I sensed the stench of rotting flesh, and I could not stand there any more. His feet were mutilated, toes missing, soles oozing puss… Oh! My God, I can still feel the overpowering stench filling my nostrils and gushing to the lungs! This man was suffering from leprosy. The reason he approached me was to see if I can help him find an institution that cares for people afflicted with leprosy. He particularly inquired I would recommend him to the Mother Teresa Sisters’ community. He had been wandering around with the hope of finding a place of care and acceptance.

In the Gospel for our reflection today Jesus encounters a leper who puts His hope and trust in Him. He believes that “if Jesus wants to, He can make him clean”. From the first reading we heard the grim situation of anyone afflicted with leprosy, that he/she should be reported to the priests who would pronounce him/her to be unclean. Then the afflicted person is forced to live in seclusion, isolated from his family and friends. A very grim situation, indeed!

Yet, you may be in shock, to realize that all of us might already be afflicted with the “dreaded” decease of leprosy. I, for one, find within myself, some telling signs of leprosy. The medical dictionary defines leprosy as an infectious disease characterized by disfiguring skin sores, nerve damage, and progressive debilitation. All forms of the disease eventually cause peripheral neurological damage (nerve damage in the arms and legs) which causes sensory loss in the skin and muscle weakness. Yes, lack of sensation or insensitivity and mutilation within me, as well as isolation/seclusion from the community, and uncleanliness are the visible signs of leprosy that I find within myself.

Sensory Loss: A person afflicted with leprosy experiences the loss of sensory perceptions. He is incapable of experiencing pain, heat, cold and so on. People with long-term leprosy may lose the use of their hands or feet due to repeated injury resulting from lack of sensation. There are so many of us who are incapable of knowing the pains, sufferings, tears and sorrows of our brothers and sisters. All around us we find people who are hungry, sick, in misery and agony. But the more I am exposed to such realities, I tend to take them for granted, as normal realities that ought be. Thus, I do not even notice, much less do I respond to the cries and tears, needs and deprivations of my brothers and sisters. Do I lack compassion? This is sign of leprosy!

Mutilation: Deformity and mutilations are the most visible signs of leprosy. Physically, I may be fit and perfect, handsome/beautiful and healthy. Yet, I may be living with deformed views, mutilated ideologies, short tempers, wounded feelings, fractured mindset, deformed attitudes and broken relationships. It could be that I do not even realize that I have such deformities and imperfections. But every time I open my mouth, people might get hurt. As I move about doing my business, people might sense the stench of arrogance and pride. How wonderfully I might manage to smile, I might still remain un approachable. How great I might think of me, my attitudes might be too mean and construed. Do I hurt people often? Do I humiliate and disrespect others? Do I have lost the original grace that I received in baptism? Have I deformed the image of God in me? If so, I admit, I’m afflicted with leprosy.

Isolation: As we heard from the first reading, a person afflicted with leprosy is kept secluded from the rest of the society. Do I discriminate against some of my brothers and sisters? Are there people in my family or community with whom I find it hard to live and work with? Do I keep off from someone? Do I feel uncomfortable in the presence of anyone? Are there people in my family who keep off from the Church? Do I ever feel that I am not wanted, I am not being respected, I am not being cared for in my family or community? Do I feel the pain of loneliness? Am I carrying the burden of isolation any time of my life? Do I lack self-esteem? Do I consider that I am good for nothing, that I have nothing to do with the family concerns or the community activities? If so, I need to be treated for spiritual leprosy.

Unclean!: In the Biblical times a leper was considered unclean. The priest declares him unclean. Whenever he comes across people in the society, the leper was to cry out “unclean, unclean!”. This was not simply because of the unhygienic situation that the leper was in, but more so because of the belief that leprosy is a punishment from God, and as a result, it is a manifestation that the person is a sinner. Jesus has made it clear that sin defiles a person. It is not the external beauty and physical hygiene that makes a person clean, but the divine virtues and spiritual worth. Yes, every sin I commit, I become unclean… Do I live in sinful situations? Do I harbor evil thoughts and make evil designs? Are my words and dealings clean? Are my attitudes straight and aspirations transparent? Do I engage in corrupt practices and deceit? Is my conscience as clean as my hands?

If I exhibit the signs and effects of leprosy, what shall I do? We heard from the first reading, let the person report it to the priest. Yes, let us report it to the High-priest Jesus Christ. Let us report to Him the symptoms of growing insensitivity to the needs and pains of others, the mutilation and deformity of my character, the pain of isolation and loneliness and my unclean conscience and life-style. Unlike the priests of the Old-testament who declared them unclean and forced them to seclusion, Jesus our high priest now will declare us to be clean and re-integrate us into the community of God and His people. Jesus effects this healing by reaching out and touching my deformed-decayed life. Wonderful indeed, He dares to touch me. He wills to heal me. If only I come to Him and declare myself unclean! Today in the sacraments of reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist Jesus does just that. He washes me in Divine grace and makes me whole.

Monday, January 16, 2012



Isaiah 9:1-6; Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18; Mark 10:13-16

Child is the role model for Jesus’ followers. Jesus loved children. Children loved it to be with Jesus. Children had free access in His presence, any time, anywhere! He embraced them, blessed them and made them stand before the elders as an imitable model. The heart of the child, Jesus found, is closer to tHis own Heart. This is why He claimed that the way to the Kingdom of God is the way of the children. Jesus challenged His disciples with the imperative of becoming like a child: “Unless you become like a child you shall not enter the Kingdom of God”.

What did Jesus find in a child so fascinating, admirable and so unique to be elevated as the yardstick of His discipleship? A deeper examination of the word child would give us the clue.

The word “c-h-i-l-d” encompasses the chief qualities of an ideal disciple:

C- represents Care
H- stands for Humility
I- signifies Innocence
L- indicates Learning, and
D- suggests Dependence

Do Care, and Be Careful

Children remind us of the need to give and take care. Children are the most vulnerable in the human family. They need the care of their parents, elders, relatives, friends and the society as a whole. The child reminds us of becoming a caring family. When God the Father placed Jesus, His Son in the hands of Mary and Joseph, He was in fact showing us what care is all about. He was also proving us how much He cares for us. The next time you are bothered by the feeling that no body cares for you, look at the child Jesus, and remember that you are always placed in the caring hands of God. He has carved you in the hollow of His palm. There is something in the whole of creation that our heart is tuned to be caring for the little ones.

I remember it well. My parents used to remind me several times a day, to be careful. When I cross the street, when meet strangers, when I play with children, when I am out in the rain or shine... I used to hear them say, “be careful”. Even today, my well wishers and friends, in the parish remind me, “Father, be careful when you are alone, travelling on a jeep or visiting strange places and people...” It is natural for children to take this advice to their heart. As elders, we still need to be careful. Be careful with the kind of relationships we build, with the barkadas we move around with. I need to be careful with the attitudes I have, with the words I speak and the emotional outbursts I have. Yes, I need to be careful with the ways I walk, the places I step in, the examples I give to the people, the way I spend my time and talents. There are so many things I need to be careful about in my daily life. But as an adult, I often feel that I am strong enough, and nobody needs to remind me of being careful. How many times have I regretted the fact that “if only I had followed the advice and directions of my parents, and elders”! Let me be a child that I may care for others and be more careful about myself.

Humility: the hallmark of a child

There is this saying: “as humble as a child”. A child is humble because it knows it is small, weak, tender, vulnerable and dependent. When a child begins to act like an adult, we call them “proud”. Humility restores the rightful place of our life on earth. Children have the ability to grow because they are humble. Children get-over their hurts easily because they are naturally humble. Humility allows them to be respectful and obedient of their parents, teachers and elders. Children teach us that humility is not weakness but strength. Because they are small and vulnerable, children are the most powerful persons in the family. They make mistakes but easily say sorry. The matter is settled. They forget the hurts of others. It is easy for them to get along with others than it is for the elders.

Children consider others as bigger and greater than themselves. Their view of the world is one of wonder and praise. It takes humility to recognize the greatness of others. Humility is the melody of the heart that sings the notes of praise. Humility is the eye of the soul that can see unfolding miracles of life. Wonder, owe, praise, appreciation... these are signs of humility. Lord, help me be humble like a child that I may know my littleness and see the greatness of your love and the wonder of your creation.

Innocence: The synonym of an infant 

If you do not know what innocence is, just behold the face of a child. Children are naturally innocent because they come fresh from the heart of God. They reflect perfectly well the “image” and “likeness” of God. Children do not lie. They do not keep grudges in their heart. There is no malice in what children do and say. They behave as naturally as they are. They say what they mean and mean what they say. They do what they feel and find joy in little things. There is no duplicity in the heart of children. They do not discriminate. They do not put barriers and conditions on relationships. And so children enjoy tremendous freedom. The entire world is their home and play ground. Everyone on earth is their family member. They are at peace with anyone, anywhere. Have you seen how children sleep, and have you wondered if you were able to sleep like children—stress free, worry free, anywhere, any time? Be innocent as a child.

As we advance in years, we learn the ways of the world. The elders are our models. As elders we teach our children to tell lies, to be angry, to discriminate against people, to be selfish, not to be open. We teach them the ways of corruption and duplicity. Children challenge us to return to the original innocence with which we entered into the human family. No wonder, Jesus was categorical in telling us that we cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless we become innocent like children.

Learning: The sign of growing-up

Everyone who comes across a baby would be pleased to see that the baby learns something from him. Children are expected to learn. We take special care to teach our children. Parents take pride to see their children excel in learning. Children learn. They learn fast. They learn from their mistakes. It is ok for children to make mistakes. But they grow by learning lessons from them. It is easier to teach a child than an adult.

Children learn fast because they are open to the world that unfolds before them. They know pretty well that they do not know anything. Children are seekers. They want to grow up fast. So they are happy to grasp anything that comes along their way. They are uncritical. They do not engage in negative criticism. They look at others as genuine masters. Their eyes and ears are open to the words and directions, signs and symbols, laws and rules of the world. This makes their life exciting each moment.

For an adult it is hard to learn. This is because they become more critical, more self centred and close-minded. I often feel I know better. I feel that I know the fullness of truth. I feel you do not know anything. This is why if ever someone points to my mistakes I feel deeply hurt. This is why I often mutter, “How dare you teach me?” It is much difficult for me to admit that I make mistakes. It is much more difficult for me to learn from my mistakes.

Dependence: The key of security and happiness

A child is the most vulnerable creature on earth. Before birth it needs nine months in the protective atmosphere of the womb. After birth, it takes two years for a child to stand on its legs. It needs to be fed, bathed, carried around... yes the child depends on its parents and elders for everything. This dependence on others helps the child to grow in intimacy, love and affection. The child would naturally cling to its mother and the father. When they are around, the child feels secure and safe.

As I grow mature, I tend to be independent. I want to go my own way. The safety of the home and the instructions of the elders become barriers and fetters for me. I feel I am man enough. I do not like anyone guiding me. I do not want to depend on anyone. I feel ashamed to ask for help. Dependence is seen as weakness. Happiness is now found in my ability to be on my own.

Jesus’ ideal of a child challenges me to learn the value of inter-dependence. No matter how I advance in age, I am still a child of God, totally dependent on Him for my life and sustenance. I’m what I am because of the human family. I depend on the society for my daily needs. My joy is complete only when I find myself in others and share my joy with others. There is no single moment in life that I can live without God and others.

Lord, help me be a child, caring and careful, humble, innocent, learning, and dependent.