22nd Sunday Year B
Do not succumb to relativism. Be a faithful follower and doer of God’s words.
In the Gospel of John that we reflected two weeks ago, Jesus presented the disciples with a difficult teaching, that in order to have eternal life, we must eat His flesh and drink His blood (Jn 6:54). This was a difficult teaching for the Jews, as Jewish law forbids the drinking of animal blood, let alone human blood. Then in the previous week’s Gospel, we read that this teaching became so hard for the disciples that many left Jesus (Jn 6:66). As the disciples left, Jesus challenged the Apostles with the question: “Do you also wish to go away?” (Jn 6:67) We too are faced with difficult teachings of God. In this week’s scripture readings, God poses the same challenge to you and me: “Do you also wish to go away?”.
My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: What do I do when I am presented with a difficult teaching? More specifically, what do I do when teachings of God run contrary to my beliefs, my values and my lifestyle? When this happens, it creates a level of unease in our mind. Psychologists call this a cognitive dissonance. A cognitive dissonance makes us uncomfortable. So, what I do when there is a cognitive dissonance between what God teaches and the life I live? Some of us choose to ignore it. In this way, our life become a contradiction. That is why for some of us, when an uncomfortable topic is raised, we become very uneasy, preferring not to talk or think about it. Some of us might even turn aggressive towards the person who raises the topic. Another option is to try to resolve the cognitive dissonance. This can be done in two ways. Option one, I can resolve the cognitive dissonance by changing my interpretation of God’s teachings. I re-interpret His teachings to match my beliefs, my values and my lifestyle. In other words, I lower God’s teachings to match my morals. This is when I venture in the dangerous realm of relativism.
When God created humankind, He created us in His image (Gen 1:26-27). But today, many of us re-create God in our own image. Relativism is the practice where we deny the existence of God’s absolute truth. The world does so by redefining truth, that truth is whatever we want to believe is the truth. Under the absurd logic of relativism, two persons can believe in the opposite thing yet they can both be right. We see relativism manifested in our daily life with quips such as “there is no right or wrong”. Relativism is rife in the world on a whole range of issues where the world chooses its own truth over God’s – in secularistic issues such as materialism and greed; in sexuality issues such as homosexual acts and same-sex unions; in sanctity of life issues such as euthanasia and abortion; and so on. As Christians, we submit to the absolute truth of God. For example,
- That the endless pursuit of fame and fortune does not bring us closer to our loved one, closer to our God and will ultimately cost us our happiness.
- That homosexual acts are not life-giving; that same-sex unions are not marriage; that the biological sex we are born with is beautiful and purposeful.
- That putting an end to a human life is wrong, even as the world musk it as compassion and human rights.
- That the ultimate path to happiness is to live in God’s love, to live our life in full by serving others, by sacrificing.
The world does not like us when we declare that there is such a thing as God’s absolute truth. The world does not like to be challenged; it does not like to told that it is wrong. For what is relativism but a blind declaration that no one is wrong and everyone is right! Ironically, the only time a relativist would declare something is wrong is when a person of faith declares the existence of absolute truth – God’s truth. This is when the person of faith is silenced through attacks and victimisation. One of the ugliest forms of this is the phenomenon called “cancel culture”, where a person’s very livelihood and safety is threatened just because he/she dare to speak the truth. In truth, relativism is a modern form of tyranny. What is even more concerning is, relativism is not confined to the secular world. It has infiltrated churches and religious institutions, to the point where many churches and institutions are silenced; or worse, forced into changing its doctrines to the point of becoming inconsistent with God’s teachings. Hence, Jesus is asking you and me today: “Do you also wish to go away?”
This brings us to the second option of resolving the cognitive dissonance. In the First Reading, Moses urges his followers to obey the Laws handed down by God. “You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.” (verse 2) In other words, I am asked to change my belief, my values and my lifestyle to match God’s teachings. So instead of lowering God’s teachings to match my morals, I raise my morals to match God’s. And where there are areas of my life that have not been a perfect manifestation of God’s teachings, I approach God in humility and repentance, seeking His help to be a better person. In the Second Reading, St Paul urges us to “welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls” (verse 21). How do we do that, especially the many of us who are proud of our intellectuals and our secular achievements? We need to open our hearts to be touched by God.
Jesus teaches us in the Gospel this week, “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (verse 21-23) Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Jesus warned us, “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” (verse 6-7). My brothers and sisters, in truth, many of our hearts are darkened. Our hearts are constantly being challenged by the secularism, materialism, individualism and relativism of the world. When our hearts succumb to the world, when our heart succumb to sins, we bring misery into our life and the lives of our loved ones. If we are truly honest and reflect on the miseries of our life, we will conclude that the majority of which is brought on by human sins – ours and others.
So, how do we convert our heart? We need to read the Bible regularly, reflect the word of God in the context of our life, open our vulnerability to Jesus and let Him touch us. But that is not all. In his letter to James, St Paul further challenged us, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?” (Jms 2:14, 17, 20) Hence, in the Second Reading this week, St Paul urges us to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (verse 22) When we do good works, it is an outward manifestation of the Good News that is in us, rather than a self-serving act to feel good about ourselves. When our hearts are in synch with the will of Jesus, our hands will carry out the works of Jesus. When hearts and hands are in perfect alignment to Jesus, then we can truly say, “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)
For a human relationship to be fruitful, we need to invest time, love and sacrifices into that relationship; we need open ourselves and be vulnerable to that person. A relationship becomes unfulfilling when we do not invest in it and expect something out of it – “Where were you when I needed you?” “How can you do this to me?” Think of the good and bad relationships in our lives – we know this is true. It is the same with our relationship with God. Do not reduce our relationship with God to just doctrines and rituals – that’s practice, not faith. Do not reduce our relationship with God to just good works – that’s charity, not faith. In the words of Moses in the First Reading, let us be “wise and discerning” (verse 6). With Jesus living in us, He become a shield for our souls, against the secularism, materialism, individualism and relativism of the world. By being “wise and discerning”, I am, as Jesus said to the wise scribe, “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk 12:34). Amen.