#Algebra is the reflection for August 30, 2015. How are we similar to the Pharisees and Scribes for the good and the bad? What does Jesus have in common with a boy who fails algebra, a protestant pastor who chants, and a girl who sings right in front of anyone and everyone? Find out in “Algebra”, the podcast for this week. Available on itunes and android. #MSAWordfortheDay #MySpiritualAdvisor #Sermon #Homily #Algebra #Sing #Sincerity #PurityofHeart #Unity #DialogueDecalogue
For My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 8/30/2015 The 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Mark 7:1-23.
I know a young man who was forced to take algebra in middle school and high school three times. He didn’t fail the course. He got a grade in the “D” range, but here is the crazy thing, he passed the final exam every time. Every semester, he would get B’s, A’s even, on the exams. He just didn’t hand in his homework. Why? He didn’t hand in his homework because he could get the answers by using a method that seemed easier to him. In fact, one semester, he got an A- on the final exam and a D+ in the course. The whole episode should cause us to ask which is more important, mastery of the material or mastery of the system.
Unfortunately, this episode just fed into this young man’s emotional problems. It fed into his depression and frustration with life. Why couldn’t anyone embrace what was truly important and what he was good at doing?
Much of spirituality and religion is wrapped up in this kind of thing. All you have to do is look at facebook, the hallowed ground of empty arguments and shouting past one another. One day, I saw posts about how people should be called out for praying the Lord’s prayer with their hands lifted and palms up (this is called the “orans” position. Ironically, “orans” is the latin word for “one who is praying”). Evidently, people find it outrageous that someone would pray The Lord’s Prayer with their hands in the prayer position because it is an ‘innovation.’ Or, I saw another post about someone who was outraged that a protestant minister at their church would sing the prayers during the Eucharist. Shame!
All of these things are not uncommon in any kind of human activity. There are certain customs that MUST be followed. If they are not followed, then the person who is doing something new is seen in an unfavorable light. They are accused of being “inaccurate” as a kind of mark of inferiority.
I know a young lady who likes to sing, incessantly. She sings all kinds of songs. One day, when she was singing some songs to the Lord, a person said to her, “I suppose you think you are more holy than the rest of us because you sing those songs?” The girl was hurt, but to her credit, she turned and said, “I sing them because they are in my heart. I can’t help it. They just spring out because of how happy I am.”
In all of these instances, there is the age old idea of finding a way to accuse someone else of being inferior so that we do not have to feel inferior about ourselves. All the while, we lose sight of what is truly important.
In today’s story from the Gospel of Mark, we find Jesus in the same spot. The Pharisees, very devout lay people who hated Jesus, and the Scribes, members of the leadership, who hated Jesus because he was popular from all of his healing, preaching, teaching, and openness to new people, they were just trying to find fault, any fault. This story from Chapter 7 is a continuation of a longer recounting of stories in the Gospel of Mark that began in Chapter 4. Chapter 4 outlines kinds of people: people who were good soil, thorny patches, hard worn paths, and rocky soil. The Scribes and the Pharisees are the well worn paths into which no word of God can get dig roots and grow.
So, what is the response of people who refuse to grow, will not receive a good thing because it shows how they might need to change their entire system? Their response is to want to kill the person who leads the change. They want to tear down the practices of the people who are earnest and sincere. Whatever practices the people who are sincere do, they are not going to be good enough because they represent something new, something more enthusiastic, something more open, outgoing, and, well, sincere.
We see this fault finding in the criticism of the person who so moved in praying the Lord’s Prayer that they just HAVE to lift up their hands. We see that in the pastor who chants the prayers before Holy Communion because his heart is just moved to not only pray, but bring the beauty of his voice before God as a sincere offering. We see it in the criticism of the young girl who just has to sing the holy songs because her heart cannot contain them within.
In this context, there is a way that the Pharisees and the Scribes could be seen as righteous people. If they approached the holy things of God or even their daily routine with such love, such admiration of the Lord and his holiness that they HAD to wash their hands, then they would do so because their heart would bubble up from within. In humbleness of heart, they would quietly go about their business of ritual washing as an offering to God of something not necessary, but as a gift.
Most people I know who do these kind of loving, humble, and extra actions for God are people who would never dream of criticizing others. In fact, when these humble holy people see another person who does something out of this kind of love for God, they notice it right away. I am thinking of countless humble people I have met over the years who understand when someone does something as a love offering to God that might be different than their own. In Catholic and Protestant circles, these kinds of people rejoice and have an admiration for the faithful acts of others, even if they are different than their own.
This is why I appreciate my Sikh mailman who wears his long hair beneath a turban when he delivers my mail. He is a humble man who wears his hair long as a symbol of devotion and as his humble attempt at being holy. This is why I say hello to everyone I meet so that they are recognized and know God saw them today. It is why the cupping of hands in prayer by my Muslim friends who then lift their hands as if to refresh their faces with the water of the prayer is something inspiring to me. It is also why the Pharisees and Scribes are condemned by Jesus in their nitpicking about whether or not the disciples wash their hands in the ritual washing before they eat. The point is to learn algebra, not to have to do it like everyone else.
I used to think that the different denominations of Christianity were a bad thing. Yet, when I think of the simple ways of the Amish, the mighty singing of the Methodists, the serenity of the Catholic Mass, the deep colors of the icons in the iconostasis of the Eastern Rite and Orthodox, the evangelistic spirit of the evangelicals, I wonder if we could gather a deep admiration that would change Christianity forever if we loved one another. If we could stop trying to figure out where everyone is wrong and begin to learn from the truly sincere holy people within each of our traditions, we could possibly change the world, change ourselves, and have true unity. If we could just pause and stop finding fault in the failure of others to do the ritual cleansings that we do to show we are better than they are, then there could be real hope.
The truly sad statement from this passage from Mark 7 is that instead of finding an appreciation in the healing, the preaching of repentance, the call to turn from sin to a new life, and all the other amazing things that Jesus is doing, all the Pharisees and Scribes see are threats to their status and authority. I wish I could say that this is rare, but it is EVERYWHERE. My question today is, is it in you? Are you overly critical of someone because of the way they are doing things? Have you stopped to think that maybe they are doing it BECAUSE they love God? Could you learn something from them?
Think of a person that is nice, humble, and annoying. Maybe, just maybe what is coming out of them is so much lovelier than the envy, pride, and folly that are coming out of you in your criticism. What if you and me, we were to turn and get to the heart of their love for God and make it our own, in our own way? What would be the first thing we would do to make that happen? Amen.
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