Two hands and a heart in-between

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXII-B in Ordinary Time, 29 August 2021
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8 >+< James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27 >+< Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Photo by the author, the Holy Land, 2017.

After an interruption of five weeks, we go back to Mark’s Gospel this Sunday that shall guide us until the end of our liturgical calendar with the Solemnity of Christ the King in November. See the beauty of the Sacred Scriptures that those five weeks from John chapter six did not break the flow of narration that is so seamless!

Returning to Mark’s account today after the feeding of five thousand and the bread of life discourse at Capernaum from John, Jesus crossed the lake and proceeded with the Twelve to Gennesaret where he preached and healed until some of his enemies arrived and found an issue to raise against him.

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed hands. For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites… You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

Mark 7:1-3, 5-8

The Israelites have taken pride in their laws given by Moses from God at Mt. Sinai. Simply referred to as the Law or Torah, it had united them as God’s “chosen people”, making it the very center of their lives that they enlarged its meaning and scope that soon consisted of more than 600 other precepts and practices to observe and keep.

Obeying the laws and traditions became their standard for holiness so that instead of becoming a means to bring them closer to God and others, these became an end in itself that they have forgotten God and others in the process.

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

Into our hearts and the heart of Jesus

Once again, our gospel is so timely and relevant to our situation right now we are in the midst of a pandemic when we are told to always wash our hands. And if Jesus were with us in person today, he would surely speak the same things about the hypocrisy we have in our washing of hands!

First of all, let us clarify that Jesus is not against the washing of hands before eating nor of any of their other traditions and laws; what he criticized was the greater importance given by his enemies with the outward signs of their laws and traditions, forgetting its inner dynamics and meaning. Thus, he never failed to clarify with the people that he had “not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them” (Mt.5:17).

Here we find the same problem with the people at Capernaum and in our own time when people fail and refuse to look beyond material things to find the meaning of what is going on around us, of what we believe in and what we practice.

Then and now – right in the midst of this pandemic – Jesus is inviting us to deeper perspectives about our concepts and ways of doing and seeing things, of what is clean and not clean, of what is tradition and modern, of what is good and evil.

Jesus wants us to constantly examine our lives for our need of conversion of our hearts to him. He is inviting us to probe our hearts and see who or what dwells inside us because from the heart, everything flows outside not only to our mouth (cf. Lk.6:45, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”) but also to our hands.

That is why I love that imagery of the heart between two arms and hands: the heart at the center of our being and consciousness that whatever comes out of the heart naturally flows to our arms and hands, even to our entire body. If there is something wrong in the heart, so with the messages it sends out.

Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils from within and they defile.”

Mark 7:14-15, 21-23

Here we find the essential question we must ask ourselves always: Do I find Jesus Christ in my heart as the sole basis and foundation of what I believe which I also say and do?

If we cannot find Jesus at the center of the things we do and believe, most likely we do not find others in the picture too! In that case, most likely, it is all about me, mine, my, and I! Like the Pharisees and scribes of his time, washing of hands and other traditions were more of a show than something more essential which is to serve God through one another.


Jesus is now leading us to a sincere examination of our hearts, 
of our interior and spiritual motivations, 
of why we are doing the things we are doing, 
of what we really believe in; 
because, too often, many of the things we do and believe 
are not really rooted in our hearts nor with God.  
There are so many times in our lives 
that we simply do things out of habit 
and conventions without really understanding why.  

Jesus is now leading us to a sincere examination of our hearts, of our interior and spiritual motivations, of why we are doing the things we are doing, of what we really believe in; because, too often, many of the things we do and believe are not really rooted in our hearts nor with God. There are so many times in our lives that we simply do things out of habit and conventions without really understanding why.

Simon Sinek said it so well in his bestselling book “Start with Why” – people buy products, patronize services, or are moved when they see the why you do things; they are willing to pay more not because of fad or prestige but more of the conviction in a belief espoused by a brand or company or by an individual.

Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images in Paranaque City, 09 February 2020.

Washing of hands and eating, our hidden hypocrisies

One of the most frequently asked question by people to me as a priest these days is why despite all our prayers, God has seemed become deaf to our pleas for him to end this pandemic? The answer is simple: unless we see and accept the spiritual realities of this COVID-19 pandemic, it would linger with us longer than projected, even not be solved at all as it gets worst with new variants that have thrown back even some of the most vaccinated nations lately.

We can have all the soaps and alcohol to wash our hands during this pandemic but COVID-19 will persist for as long as we have no regard for the dignity of every person. See all the abuses and corruption going on that is more sickening than the virus itself!

That washing of hands is an imagery full of meanings we have lost since the time of Jesus. Inwardly, the washing of hands means washing of one’s heart, of cleansing ourselves of our sins and self-centeredness and other impurities.

So many times we have become like Pontius Pilate who washed his hands to free himself from any guilt in sentencing Christ to death without realizing the more he had implicated himself to the injustice by refusing to make a stand for what is true and just. Like us today, we keep on washing our hands in the hope that our conscience would be at peace or be not bothered with our indifference for what is true and good.

Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son, 2019.

Washing of hands has always been closely related with eating which is an act of “appropriating something we cannot fully have” like when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. They took something they cannot wholly take or “swallow” that is why all they could do was just take a “bite” that opened their eyes to something they could not fully realize and appreciate. There are so many realities in this life we just cannot fully grasp right away, requiring us to have more faith, more patience in trusting God and those above us.

But, like Adam and Eve, we keep on taking a bite, of eating whatever our limited minds and reason find as “good” to have. And we wash our hands in clear hypocrisies like the Pharisees and scribes in worship and prayer when we lead double lives, when we laugh and cheer at all kinds of lies and filth, when we silently approve attacks against human life like tokhang and abortion.

Every day we wash our hands and keep them clean to avoid contaminating our food and body in hypocrisy as we agree and support in the name of “modernism” these trends of same sex relationships, promiscuity, and divorce. Or of graft and corruption we have resigned to accept as a fact of daily life.

To wash our hands is to wash our hearts clean of all kinds of evil, of mediocrity and indifference, of taking a stand to “pass over” from sin into grace by witnessing God’s goodness in our lives as Moses reminded Israel in the first reading.

The hands and the heart always go together as expressed in the Jewish thought of “mercy of the heart” and “mercy of the hand” when God’s mercy is more than a feeling but an act of righteousness, of justice and love.

Let us heed the reminder of the Apostle in the second reading to be truly clean in our hands and in our hearts: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. 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 1:22, 27).

Stay safe everyone. Have a blessed week ahead! Amen.

The hand of the Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-8 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Advent Week IV, 23 December 2020
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 1:57-66
Photo by author of the entrance to the site believed to be where the Lord’s Precursor was born below the side altar of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karen, Israel (2019).

We are almost into the completion of our nine-day novena for Christmas as we heard today the story of the birth of the Lord’s Precursor, John the Baptist. It is a story narrated so simple by Luke but filled with beautiful meanings specially for us today in this time of the pandemic.

First thing we see is how Zechariah’s speech was restored upon declaring the name of his son is “John”:

He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.

Luke 1:63-64

Luke did not tell us what kind of praise did Zechariah speak about God when his speech was restored but here we find that basic truth in our lives that for every blessing we receive from the Lord, right away – immediately! – we must praise and thank God first.

Moreover, this scene shows us the good effect of the “imposed quarantine” on Zechariah when he was made deaf and speechless after doubting God’s gift of a child to him and his wife Elizabeth during the annunciation by the angel while incensing the Holy of holies in Jerusalem.

God restored the power of Zechariah to speak again and greatly renewed him that this time, he had become obedient to the Father to his plan. In a sense, Zechariah was not merely freed to speak again but most of all, he was freed to believe and trust in God again!

As we have reflected last Saturday morning, Advent is quarantine. So many times in life, we have to step backwards, be silent to listen to God and just let Him do His work in us! Sometimes we think of so many things that are not really necessary and has nothing to do with God’s plans or work. With Zechariah able to speak now, he shows us that in the exercise of our powers we must first get in touch with God how to use His gifts to us.

This we shall see in our second point: allowing God to use us as His hand.

Photo by author, dome of the Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein-Karen, 2019.

Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Luke 1:65-66

From rejoicing at the birth of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son, their neighbors now moved to being amazed when the child is named “John” that coincided with the restoration of his father’s ability to speak.

Luke tells us how it was such a big thing, maybe so “viral” and “trending” like today that everybody was discussing it. They must have felt God so near, almost there that Luke used an Old Testament expression, “For surely the hand of the Lord was with him”.

It is a beautiful expression indicating power too, just like the ability to speak.

Our hands are so powerful that we are able to move and do so many things because of these.

To say “the hand of the Lord was with him” is to portray the image of God’s immense power, His omnipotence, of being able to do whatever He deems needed to life on earth.

In the Old Testament when Elijah was being pursued by the soldiers of Queen Jezebel after he had shamed the priests of baal for failing to light a pile of firewood for worship, the prophet escaped by running beyond human ability considering his old age because “the hand of the Lord was on Elijah” (1 Kgs. 18:46).

Sometimes, the “hand of the Lord” can be scary as it means judgment or punishment from God like when King David disobeyed God when he ordered a census of Israel to find out how many men can fight in their wars, doubting the power of the Lord. David was given with three options for his punishment by the seer Gad: a natural disaster or a victory by his enemies, or a time of God’s judgment. David chose the third option, saying “I am i dire straits. But I prefer to fall into the hand of the Lord, whose mercy is very great, than into the hands of men” (1Chronicles 13:21).

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center in Novaliches, QC (2014).

The late Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila used to tell of the story about the hand of God: he said sometimes, the hand of God would “spank” or hit us with pains and trials in life to discipline us and make us strong; sometimes, the same hand of God would caress and soothe our tired bodies or give us that proverbial pat on the shoulder to affirm us. But what is most important to remember according to Cardinal Sin is the fact that whether we are being disciplined or touched by the hand of God, it is always loving and merciful, most of all grace filled.

The recent news of that trigger happy cop who brutally shot and killed Sonia and her son Antonio in Tarlac recently is a reminder to us all most especially this Christmas in the time of pandemic, of the need for us to let the hand of God take control of our lives, guide us to life through more patience, love, kindness, and understanding.

It seems that so often, whenever we let our hands do everything, they always go out of control like our mouth and lips that lead us to more disasters and even deaths.

Beginning this Christmas, may the hand of God lead us back to Him and with each other.

Let us imitate the praying hands, of two hands touching each other but always creating a space between. That space is for Jesus born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, asking us everyday to take Him into our hands to care for Him, to protect Him through one another.

Amen.

Photo by Emre Kuzu on Pexels.com