14th Sunday of Year A
Being wise and the intelligent does not equate to being strong in faith. Jesus calls us to come to Him with infant-like simplicity.
Am I intimidated when someone seems smarter and more eloquent than I? And if such a person is disparaging my faith, do I find ourselves so intimidated that I am afraid to speak out against the person? Even within the church, do I wonder in awe at theologians and charismatic speakers who are able to annunciate our faith so well? How many times have I been invited to attend talks that promise to grow our faith, only to realise that all the speakers did were growing our knowledge? In truth, while knowledge of the faith is desirable and good, it does not equate to faith. Otherwise, the holiest people in the world would have been the religiously learned – theologians, scripture scholars and the like. In truth, sometimes, it is the simple folks that give us the greatest examples of holiness.
In 1997, Pope St John Paul II declared St Therese of Lisieux, a young 19th Century French nun as a doctor of the Church, putting St Therese on equal footing as great thinkers like St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. If you do not know St Therese, you might think she must have been a great theologian. In fact, St Therese is most famous for her “little way”, which teaches us to keep our faith simple by finding and serving God in our ordinary and simple day-to-day lives. She once said, “The splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”
In Gospel times, the religiously learned had become corrupted and hypocritical. Far from being people of great faith, the Pharisees and Sadducees are far from God in their hearts. In a veiled criticism of the learned Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus said in the Gospel that “the wise and the intelligent” does not necessarily earn God’s revelation (verse 25). Instead, it is through accepting God message with child-like innocence that God’ revelation is revealed. The Pharisees burdened the people with 613 Mosaic laws, the strict observance of which, they claimed, was a pre-requisite to salvation. In their strict to-the-letter interpretation of these laws, they missed the essence of the law and its true meaning. While they appeared learned and knowledgeable, their pride has obscured them from God truth. That is why Jesus said to our Heavenly Father, “you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent” (verse 25). In contrast, Jesus invites us to come to him with innocent infant-like hearts, for He is “gentle and humble in heart” and in Him we will find rest for our souls (verse 29).
This is a powerful message. While I may not be a highly learned in my faith, my “little way” can open the door to deep spirituality that even the learned cannot achieve. On the other hand, if I am a learned person, I must always be humble. My intellectual capability is a gift from God and must be directed to the service of God, not to serve myself, like the Pharisees and Sadducees did. This is the difference between serving the flesh and serving the spirit. In the Second Reading, St Paul cautioned us against serving the flesh. “You are not in the flesh”, he declared (verse 9). In fact, he went further by saying, “if you live according to the flesh, you will die” (verse 13). In other words, if we ignore the spiritual realm of our existence, and let our bodily desires be the sole governance of our lives, such living can only lead to death. Especially for those of us who are consumed by self-serving pride, this is very confronting indeed! The truth is, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. He is the same Spirit that “raised Christ from the dead”, and will bring us eternal life (verse 11). However, to receive Christ’s promise of eternal life, we must allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit and “put to death the deeds of the body” (verse 13).
The First Reading foretold a messianic prophesy – the arrival of the Messiah on a donkey. This was fulfilled when Jesus entered into Jerusalem in triumphant on Palm Sunday (Jn 12:12-15). This imagery of a triumphant heavenly king stands in stark contrast to that of a triumphant earthly king. An earthly king, upon conquering a land, would present himself on a horse and surrounded by guards and weapons, often terrorising his subjects. In contrast, Jesus the heavenly king humbly presented himself on a simple donkey. This is an example of Jesus’ gentle and humble heart. We will do well to imitate our Lord in how we carry ourselves. Amen.