38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Mark 12:38-40, NRSV).
When parishioners are sufficiently participative at Mass and are sickened by a homily, this is something quite different from being bored by the usual Sunday homilies. Rather, their feeling nauseated is caused by a homily that they find contrary to the gospel and to what Christ stands for.
Jesus of Nazareth, the Four Gospels describe with one voice, is all about the kingdom of God. This is his mission, his life. In Mark, right from his baptism at the River Jordan where his identity as the beloved of God was revealed and his life-mission clarified, the Spirit drove him to face temptations in the desert, to purify and strengthen his intentions in his life-mission. Emerging triumphant from temptations, Jesus at once began preaching the kingdom of God and lived what he preached all the way to Calvary. A similar clear thread runs through Matthew where from mountain to mountain, Jesus preached and lived the kingdom of God to the full. The first mountain is where he preached his kingdom messages in the great Sermon on the Mount; the second is Calvary where he died for the kingdom-messages that he preached. That holy and sacred, purified and sacrificial life-mission is what God affirmed as being very good when God raised the crucified Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.
The key to Jesus’ kingdom-preaching and kingdom-living is the twofold commandment of love. It holds together two essential, interlinked, and distinguishable but inseparable dimensions, namely, [a] to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and [b] to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Together, they form one commandment – the first.
We truly engage with this first commandment only by an interior act of love. This love flows properly from the inside where one is truly conscious of God’s love for all, to the outside where this love is concretised in unifying actions. These unifying actions are actions of solidarity, especially with the Poor, the suffering, and the marginalized – the victims in a harsh world where oppressors and the powerful-but-indifferent dominate the weak. This is all in the Christ-consciousness. When official teaching says “priests are conformed to Christ”, it means that they are to carry this Christ-consciousness in them and live it.
Clearly, where Christ-consciousness is present and real, a sacrificial ministerial service is evident. People know a Christ-like priest when they see one. The contrary is equally true. When the ego is inflated, Christ-consciousness disappears, Archbishop Fulton Sheen has pointed out with such simple clarity.
A similar spirituality of humility is taught in other religions and renowned philosophies. The venerable Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu, for example, advocated humility and religious piety. Taoism teaches, quite piercingly, that wherever the “I” appears, the “Tao” disappears (有我, 就没有道).
To a degree, an inflated ego that betrays a lack of Christ consciousness is bound to show up in what is best described as a “value-discrepancy“. Value discrepancy is not hypocrisy, we must know.
In hypocrisy, a person puts up a false appearance of virtue or goodness, while concealing his contrary real character or inclinations, especially with respect to religious and moral beliefs. On display is an active pretense and a sham practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case. So if we accuse someone of hypocrisy, we mean that they pretend to have qualities, beliefs, or feelings that they do not actually have.
We have no reason to believe that there are many ordained ministers who knowingly and actively practice a split between the heart and the lips, or the interior consciousness and the exterior words and deeds. If indeed some do consciously practice the split, then they are active agents of evil. They would be practicing a conscious deception for the purposes of promoting and protecting themselves.
What we think is more likely the case, is value-discrepancy – a tendency of which we are all prone really. Value discrepancy is not an evil strategy; it is but an unconscious lack of integration. It happens by not being mindful.
While hypocrisy needs to be prophetically denounced, as Jesus found it necessary to do against the scribes and Pharisees (see , for example, the famous eight woes in Matthew 23 verses 13, 14, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, and 29), value discrepancy is better tackled by creating awareness and promoting improvement. When we come to see and recognize that we are not what we say we are, there is hope for change and improvement.
Nevertheless, a word of caution is in order. Value discrepancy may not necessarily be blatant; often, they could even be difficult to spot. The reason, it seems, is that some discrepancies are hidden deep in such long standing ways an institution has been thinking and doing things, that people generally just take the propriety of things for granted. The ethos and the organizational life of an institution may become so entrenched that they have become internalized despite the stated values.
In the Gospels, Jesus the wholly integrated human being, stood out as the one who noticed the gap between what is stated in Scriptures and what is practiced by the religious authorities. This had led, amongst a host of other things, to Jesus’ Sabbath clashes with them, his pronouncement against the institutional system that devoured all that a poor widow had, his symbolic cursing of fig tree and angry cleansing of the temple, and so on. Clearly, much improvement is needed to get to authentic Christian discipleship and ministerial service. To improve on Christ-consciousness and reduce value-discrepancy, we need more and better integration of communal values and God’s first commandment. We need to take care of ourselves to be sure, but we are never to forget to honour and respect others as well, and to care in solidarity and co-humanity for the Poor and needy and, especially, the victims of oppression and indifference.
Copyright © Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh, December 2018. All rights reserved.
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