Thursday, August 21, 2008
Thursday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Pius X, Pope
Readings: Ezekiel 36:23-28; Psalm 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19; Matthew 22:1-14
Picture: CC aka Kath
In the movie, As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson’s character suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s a debilitating condition in that it forces him to do various things in highly ritualized and rigid fashion. The simple act of washing his hands, for example, takes incredibly long, because he has to do it a certain way and a definite number of times, each time replacing the soap in a particular position, and so on. In a memorable scene, Nicholson wants very much to take his beloved out to dinner. But he almost ruins everything by making his date wait an eternity for him, while he showers in the bathroom. It’s quite ironic, isn’t it, how obsessing over getting clean – over preparing oneself for something – can actually hinder us from truly enjoying the main event?
Sometimes I wonder if the same might not be said about the way we live our religious lives. We know how important it is to have clean hands and pure hearts. Often, much of our spiritual energies are spent trying to keep ourselves away from the filth of sin. And this is probably as it should be. Indeed a large part of our readings today is all about how God promises to cleanse God’s people. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you… you shall be my people and I shall be your God.
But there are also other important points to note. First, the readings are less about the people keeping themselves clean (try as they might, they seem quite powerless in this respect) than about how God purifies the people. And second, cleansing appears only as a part – albeit a significant and important part – of the message in our readings. There is also something more. Could it be that some, if not many of us, often obsess so much over trying to keep ourselves clean that we end up hardening the very hearts that God promises to soften? Could it be that we pay so much attention to spiritual cleanliness that we end up neglecting the other just as important aspects of the message?
The gospel presents us with two of these aspects. Jesus’ parable highlights the point that in addition to cleansing us, God also calls us to enjoy the joyful fellowship with God and one another. It’s probably true that our preoccupation with our many secular activities is the main reason for our reluctance to take up God’s generous invitation. But one may also wonder whether, at least sometimes, our obsession with our own sinfulness could have the same effect. Such obsessions can keep our attention focused more on ourselves than on the mercy of God.
In addition, our efforts at staying away from sin can also make us neglect the third important aspect in our readings today. Not only does God cleanse and call us, but God also expects us to allow ourselves to be clothed with the wedding garment that is the life, death and resurrection of Christ. It is only in putting on Christ, in striving to live the life that he lived, in immersing ourselves ever more fully in the challenges of daily human living, that we can truly be kept clean from the stain of sin and selfishness. Could it be that, instead of remaining perpetually obsessed with washing our own hands, it is precisely only in trying to hear and heed God’s call and in allowing ourselves to be clothed in Christ, that we are cleansed?
How might God be calling and choosing us to go beyond our obsession with cleanliness today?
Posted by Fr Chris at 9:59 am