Sunday, February 16, 2014

Beyond Masak-Masak

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Picture: cc Lan Rasso

Sisters and brothers, have you ever heard of the term masak-masak? Do you know what it means? The Singaporeans among us will probably be familiar with it. As you know, masak-masak refers to the games of make-believe that little children like to play. For example, a child may use toy cooking utensils to pretend to prepare food. And even to pretend to serve it to others. It’s no coincidence that, in Malay, the word masak actually means to cook. So masak-masak can refer to a little child pretending to cook. The child only goes through the motions of cooking and serving. But, of course, nobody actually expects to be fed.

And that’s fine. It’s appropriate for a little child to engage in masak-masak. It’s even quite amusing for adults to watch them. But what’s appropriate for children is, of course, not so appropriate for adults. Especially if the adult in question actually has the responsibility for feeding others. Can you imagine, for example, inviting your friends to a restaurant, for a dinner party, and then finding out that it serves only make-believe food? Or returning home from a tiring day at work, expecting a hot meal, and discovering that your domestic helper or spouse has spent the day doing nothing but playing masak-masak? And what would happen if all that we ever did was to play masak-masak? We would all either have to survive on raw food, or starve to death! Masak-masak may be fine for children. But, to keep from starving, at least some of us adults need to learn how to cook for real. Even if it’s just to boil an egg and some instant noodles.

I mention all this because I think it can help us to understand a little better why Jesus says the things he does in the gospel today. If your virtue goes no deeper, Jesus says, than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. But why? What is wrong with the virtue of the scribes and Pharisees? And why is it insufficient to get us into heaven?

As you know, in the gospels, although the scribes and Pharisees follow the Jewish Law very very strictly, they seem to think that keeping the Law is only a matter of external ritual observance. Of going through the motions of prayer, at certain prescribed times and in certain prescribed ways. Or of fasting. Or giving alms. Or offering sacrifices. But this is insufficient for entering the kingdom of heaven, because the kingdom is not just about what we do externally, with our hands. But, just as importantly, also about what we have within us, in our hearts. Which is why, in the gospel, Jesus encourages us to deepen our observance of the Law, by watching, not just what we do, but also how we think and feel. By, for example, going beyond refraining from killing, to not being driven by anger. Beyond just keeping away from adulterous relationships, to resisting lustful thoughts. Beyond just fulfilling our promises, to being honest at all times.

But that’s not all. The virtue of the scribes and Pharisees is insufficient not just because it remains with the external. But also because it relies only on human strength. The scribes and Pharisees prescribe many rules for people to follow, without actually helping them to find the power and energy they need to keep those rules. Theirs is a very burdensome, very strenuous regime. A spirituality of purely human effort and self-exertion. Without any possibility of finding nourishment. Like children playing masak-masak, the scribes and Pharisees only go through the motions of cooking, without actually feeding anyone.

In contrast, the virtue that our readings are proposing to us is quite different. Although Jesus invites us to deepen our observance of the Law, we are not left to our own devices. The deeper we go, the more we realise our own weakness. Our own inability to live up to what is demanded of us. And, in our weakness, we are led to turn to God for help. Isn’t this why we prayed the way we did in our opening prayer just now, when we asked that we may be so fashioned by God’s grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to God. To be fashioned by God. Rather than to build ourselves up. In other words, we asked God to make us holy by filling us, by feeding us, with God’s very Self. With God’s life-giving and energy-replenishing Presence. And the first reading reassures us that God does hear and answer our prayer. That God does give us the strength that we need to do what is right. If you wish, we are told, you can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power.

And what is this power? From where do we find this nourishment? The answer is clearly spelt out for us in the second reading. Where St. Paul speaks of having a wisdom to offer those who have reached maturity. Not the virtue of the scribes and Pharisees. Not just the masak-masak that is meant only for children. The games of make-believe that may amuse some, but actually feed no one. Paul is speaking instead of the hidden wisdom of God. The wisdom that God has revealed to us through the Spirit. The same wisdom that we are gathered here this morning to celebrate and to partake. The wisdom that is found in the crucified and risen Christ.

But to gain access to this wisdom, it is not enough for us just to drag ourselves to this holy place once a week. Not enough for us just to go through the motions of standing and sitting and kneeling. Not even enough for us just to come up to the altar to receive the Eucharistic bread. As important as all these actions may be, they remain on the level of external ritual observance. They remain only masak-masak. As long as we do not open the doors of our hearts to the Lord. As long as we do not bring along with us our joys and our sorrows. Our triumphs and our defeats. As long as we do not allow ourselves to enter into an intimate personal relationship with the One who has loved us enough to lay down his life for us on the Cross.

It is only when we do this. When we actually get to know Jesus in the same way that we may come to know a close personal friend. That we gain access to the strength and energy we need to live the virtues of the kingdom. It is only in this way that we find true nourishment. It is only in this way that are we fed. And not just us. In being fed, we too are then moved to reach out to help others find nourishment. Whether it be in the form of material help. Or spiritual guidance. We ourselves become people who feed others with the wisdom that we have first received from God. The wisdom that is Christ.

Sisters and brothers, it’s quite understandable, and even amusing, for little children to engage in games of make-believe. But there comes a time when children are all called to grow up. To mature in their faith. To enter into an intimate personal relationship with the One whom we call our Lord and Saviour. For it is only in doing this that the world will find true nourishment.

Sisters and brothers, in our lives of faith, how is the Lord inviting us to continue to outgrow masak-masak today?

1 comment:

  1. O Lord, may I ask for Your Wisdom - may I learn from YOU to grow deeper in the faith, and to be ROOTED in YOU only.

    In this day and age - in our world today - where superficiality seems to be rather common and "acceptable" - where it is almost a norm for (most) people to say what they do not mean (pleasantries) and it's hard to find authenticity; may I ask for Your Grace to remain AUTHENTIC and TRUE to my real self.

    Lord, You have made us all in YOUR OWN IMAGE AND LIKENESS.

    In the face of all the consumerism and materialism around us, help me to grow more aware of what it is like to remain in my real self - to resist the temptations and lures of the glitter and glamour of the world and to stop playing masak-masak (games which only fool myself and others) ...

    O Lord, You are ALL-SEEING and You know the hearts and minds of all peoples. Nothing can ever escape Your sight hence, all pretence, all falsehood comes apart before YOU and YOUR LIGHT.

    Lord, may i ask You to teach me and grant me the wisdom to remain in Your LOVE and LIGHT; to preserve the authencity and integrity which are Your marks of ownership on me.


    Seeing IS Believing
    18 February 2014 12pm


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