In this moving homily for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly helps us understand how “you gotta have heart.”
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
Second Reading: James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
Back to Mark again. As you notice, we have left the Bread of Life, the five lovely, wonderful Sundays dedicated to Jesus, our Bread of Life and Light of the World, and now we’re back to basics with Mark. Mark is now going to take us through the rest of the year in this Gospel. And as Mark is, one thing can be said of Mark, he’s very practical.
And so what we find today is Jesus really resting his disciples. Apparently they had supper, or perhaps lunch, and then they were kind of gathering a little bit of people around to hear Jesus preach. And before Jesus could say anything, the Pharisees from Jerusalem…
Now Jerusalem is a long way from Galilee, so there was already about sending important officials of the Sanhedrin to hear what Jesus had to say, and, of course, they were going to try to trap him, and perhaps to turn crowds of people away from him. So, in the air at this time was a feeling, and Jesus knew it, that he was sort of on trial.
And so, the Pharisees, the first thing they said was, “We hear that your disciples do not follow the law and the tradition of our people.” Well this is a very serious criticism. This is like saying that he is an outsider, that he is not even a Hebrew.
And then, asked to talk a little bit about that, they said, “Well, your disciples do not wash the cup and take care of washing the dishes, and they don’t wash their hands every day, and they don’t wash their hands when they come back from the marketplace where they are defiled. And, of course, these are the rituals and traditions of our people, and not to do these is to turn away from the Law, to turn away from Moses, to turn away from God himself.”
I thought that this kind of approach, the only kind of story I could come up with to explain maybe the deeper issues…
When Jesus gives his answer, he says, “You worship me with your mouth, but your heart is not there.”
When I was about…the war had started, and all the young men went off to war, so I was working for a farmer in Hicksville, a potato farmer, and he was working in a munitions place, and he had four sons, and I was the fifth one, and we were running the day to day farm that he had, because there was no one else.
Now I was only about ten years old. It was wonderful to be ten years old and earning a living. The trouble was this farmer paid me off in potatoes, but he didn’t pay me off in money. But when you’re ten years old, you’re grateful whatever you can get, you see.
The farmer, though, was a very good Catholic, you see. He went to church every Sunday, never missed Sunday. His wife was at his side, his children were in the pew, and he did everything according to the rules and regulations of his people. He was a German-American farmer, and one of the things that he would impress upon you when you first went there was that nobody sits down at this table for lunch or for supper unless they have washed their hands and faces. And if you don’t think this was serious for him, one of the young boys forgot to come in, he didn’t wash his hands and face, and he was sent up without supper.
Now, if you were working on a potato farm, you’re spending your days in deep dirt, because you have to kneel down in the dirt and scoop the potatoes into these little bushel baskets and then pour the bushel basket into a large bag and then eventually the trucks would pick up the bags etc, etc. But you’re really filthy when you come in.
So the bell rings for lunch, and we walk in, and we’ve really got about two inches of potato dirt on us. So we all line up and we’re washing and we go in to eat. And then he says, “Yes,” he looks at us and asks us to turn over our hands. We’d turn over our hands and fingernails and all of that. And then he says, “Alright, you can eat now.”
Now the rest of us, that was fine you know, we used to do that, tell the kids “wash your hands,” but the rest of our bodies, except for a little round face and wrists down to the fingertips, was filthy, I mean we were filthy from top to bottom, because we’d been rolling around in the dirt all day, you see.
And the first thing that struck me was, this is very strange. But when he was a little boy, Mr Mesker, he probably heard his mother say that “We Meskers always wash our face and hands before we eat,” but it never dawned on him that it had to go any further.
Now, this is what is happening in this dialogue with the Pharisees. They had begun to make the outside of everything very important, indeed to protect the inside, but the trouble was…What was Mr Mesker like? Well, he was a bit of a Nazi. He was a tyrant. His rule was law, and you had to keep all the rules and regulations, and you had to go to the nine o’clock Mass on Sunday, and you had to say the rosary after.
And, after a while, you got this feeling that you didn’t want to go to Mass anymore, because it was all mouth. Because he never, in all that time, we were just children, he never came out to the potato fields and talked to us and told us how good we were to be working, nine, ten years old. No, you had to have clean hands and you had to have your face washed, otherwise you could not eat.
We do this all the time. We follow the rules and regulations. Sit here, don’t sit here, you have to do this, you have to do that. And we make it a way of life, but there’s no life in it.
Now the trouble with all of this is this. As Jesus says, you wash the outside of the cup, but you don’t have heart. There’s no heart in it.
Now, when we think of heart, we think Jesus means what we think of heart. We say things like, my heart yearns for you, very emotional, you know. Or, I give you my whole heart, and it gets sort of romantic. But in Jesus’ time, heart, and in the Bible whenever you come across the word heart, they’re not talking about emotion, that’s part of it, but the main thing is a whole series of things.
For the Jews, and the people of that time, heart also meant mind. You fought with your heart. It also meant determination. “Do you have the heart for it, or don’t you have the heart for it?” “Will you give your heart to God?” meant your whole being, everything that was human about you, you were going to give it to God. And, of course, this is a little bit harder, and Jesus was saying, that’s what Isaiah said, he said, “You know, you take care of all these little things that we do, but there’s no heart in it.”
Do you remember the story of the prodigal son? There were two sons. One son was a wastrel, he asked for half his father’s money and then went off and wasted it. The other son was faithful and true, a lovely young man, working very hard, every day, in his father’s vineyard. And when the son came home, the father was so happy, because his son had come back, and he thought he was dead, and he ran down and greeted him, and hugged him, and kissed him, and told the servants, “Wash him and clean him, and we’re going to have a huge party, and kill the fattened calf.”
And, of course, when the other boy heard about it, when he came in and the party was going on, the other boy was kind of upset and he wouldn’t go in to the party. “No, I’m not going in there, not with those people.” And his father had to come out again and make a fool of himself.
And he went out and he said to him, “Why aren’t you coming in?” And the little boy said, “Well, I have served you faithfully. I have never been (inaudible). I have been the perfect young son for you. And now your wasteful son comes home, after spending all his money on prostitutes, smelling and ugly, and shaming you in front of all your people.”
And then the father looks at him and he says, “You’re missing the point. We’re celebrating a dead son who has risen from the dead. And that is what we celebrate. He has come home.”
And what his father was saying…We always feel for the young boy who kept all the rules and regulations. Is this bad? No, it’s not bad. What’s wrong with it? What’s wrong with it is, the young, faithful boy should have been the first person to welcome the wastrel home. But the young boy, when he came back, his brother despised him because he didn’t go by the rules.
What his father was saying to him is, “If you do not have heart, the rules are not worth anything, because the rules we make, laws, the Jewish laws were to protect very precious things, and they were to protect the humanity of the heart. When we speak of Jesus, Jesus says to us, you know, he says, “Often you just use lips, but you do not use your heart. The only prayer acceptable is a prayer from the heart.”
In many, many different ways, when we look at our society and within it… I was in… I won’t tell you where I was in, but I went in to just have a lunch there, and there was a dress code. I didn’t know what the dress code was, but I had my, as I usually have, the grey shirt, the priest shirt, the grey shirt, but it was out, you see, it was out. Instead of tucking it in, it was not tucked in, it was out. And the lady in charge at the desk said, “I’m afraid you’re going to have to tuck your shirt in.”
And I’d been there before and never heard of this rule, and I said, “What do you mean tuck my shirt in?” She said, “Yes. It’s the rule.” And I said, “What happens if I don’t tuck my shirt in?” “Can’t let you in the restaurant.” And I said, “But this shirt is supposed to be outside, it doesn’t have to…” “No that’s the rule. It’s there.”
And then, all of a sudden, two men came over, and I thought, “Ooh, I’d better not make a scene or I’ll get thrown out.” This was the Hong Kong Club. So, when I finally got up there, I had to put my shirt in and all of this stuff.
And then they looked at me and I said, “Can I take my bag up?” because I had a couple of books and something that I wanted to give to a friend. “No books allowed upstairs. No books allowed.” You would think that you were visiting a shrine. All there were were tables and chairs and people shoving food into their mouth, that’s all.
Now I’m not going to discriminate against…there’s basic rules and regulations that should be followed in any group. But we must remember that sometimes, these rules and regulations blind us to the fact that other people are being excluded, people of different races, people that don’t fit into proper groups, people that are maybe not up to snuff, people that we wouldn’t want to maybe invite to our own house for supper.
And then we realise, not so much whether or not you have rules and regulations, what you realise though is that Jesus is saying whatever, whatever, whatever helps love is the heart. And what does not help love, and stands in the way of love and forgiveness and caring and reaching out, get rid of it, because this will kill you, will kill your society, it will kill whatever you are trying to protect. And that’s why it’s so serious. And Mark knows this.
Jesus is saying, “Give me your heart and I will give you my heart.” What he’s saying is, “Give me your humanity, yourself, and I will give you my humanity and divinity.”
The only way to end this is probably to say, it’s kind of funny… Have you ever heard the expression, “You gotta have heart.” “You gotta have heart.” It comes from an American musical called “Damn Yankees”, which was about fifty years ago. And the story was, the ball players were from Cleveland, and Cleveland never had a good ball team, but they were all down and out, and very upset, and they didn’t care about baseball so much, and all the rest of it. And suddenly they got the idea that maybe they could beat the New York Yankees and win the pennant, you see. And the song that they began to sing to each other was “You Gotta Have Heart.”
And that’s what Jesus means by heart. You gotta have dedication. You have to have commitment. You have to have love. You have to have forgiveness. You have to have the things that go with giving your heart, because God gives his heart. He doesn’t give the minutiae of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are Ten Commandments, and those who follow them are people who follow them not according to the rule, but according to the heart. And the Ten Commandments are “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Forgive, give, and, when you’re going out to people, then your heart goes with you, but just don’t give them a whole list of things to follow.
So today, in today’s Mass, if there’s any lesson to be learned is, if you want to be a good Christian, Jesus says, “You gotta have heart.”
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This homily was delivered on 30th August 2009.
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