3rd Sunday of Lent Year B
Is the path to faith through our eyes, our heads or our hearts?
My brothers and sisters. Is our path to faith achieved through our eyes and our heads? We are visual beings. We often say, “seeing in believing”. Moreover, our eyes are attracted to glamour and grandeur. By this argument, all it would take for all of us to become faithful believers is for God to manifest Himself in grandeur. On the other hand, some are us are attracted to intellect and logic. Our heads seek deep theological understanding of God’s teachings. Some of us believe that an in-depth understanding of God would make us faithful believers. However, history and experience tell us that even as our eyes witness the grandeur of God and our heads comprehend the wisdom of God, our hearts remained unconvinced.
In Exodus story, when the Israelites were escaping from Egypt, God came down as a pillar of cloud and fire (Ex 13:21-22), to guide the people and protect them from the pursuing Egyptian army. Later on, as the people approached the Red Sea, God parted the sea, so that “the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.” (Ex 14:22) As grandeur goes, these events of Ex 13-14 were very spectacular.
Later, as the people journeyed towards the Holy Land, God gave them the Ten Commandments. This week’s First Reading, taken from Ex 20, presents us the Ten Commandment. The first three of the Commandments address with our relationship with God; while the next seven address with our relationship with each other. The Ten Commandments are moral laws to help free the people from immoral practices they grew accustomed to in Egypt. In essence, the Ten Commandments say,
- Honour God
- Honour God’s name
- Honour God’s day
- Honour your father and mother
- Do not kill
- Do not commit adultery
- Do not steal
- Do not lie
- Do not wrongfully desire your neighbour’s wife
- Do not wrongfully desire your neighbour’s goods
The people have just witnessed spectacular miracles as they escaped from the Egyptians. Then God gave them the Ten Commandments. As wisdom goes, these Commandments embody deep theological truth. The miracles fed the people’s eyes and the Commandments feed the people’s heads. By themselves, did these make the people fervent followers of God? No! The people in fact were unfaithful to God. They fashioned and worshiped the golden calf (Ex 32:1-6); they complained about lack of food (Ex 16:2-3) and even the quality of food (Num 21:5)!
In the Second Reading this week, St Paul says, the “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom” (verse 22), but these by themselves do not lead us to God. For what are signs but miracles of grandeur that satisfy the eye; and what is wisdom but food for the head? The truth is, the path to my conversion lies in my heart, not my eyes or my head. While I may lament how superficial the Jews were, in truth, as a modern Christian, I am no different. I seek miraculous signs, thinking they would make me a better Christian. I seek theological knowledge, thinking I can reason myself into believing. But this is not so. To be a believer, I need to open my heart to encountering God. The euphoria of witnessing a miraculous sign does not endure the passage of time. Similarly, the intellect cannot override a heart that is darkened. Have we ever wondered why in our society, no matter how severe the punishment for a particular crime is, no matter how aware a would-be criminal is of the severe punishment, there are always people committing that crime? The intellect cannot override a darkened heart.
“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’” (Mt 12:38) Like the Pharisees and the Scribes in Jesus’ time, I too demand a sign to make my heart believe. But if I am not prepared to open my heart to God, I am only deceiving myself. In response to the request for a sign, Jesus answered, “No sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.” (Mt 12:39-40) Just as Jonah entered into the tomb of the big fish for three days, Jesus entered into His tomb for three days. Again, in the Gospel this week, we hear how after Jesus drove out the traders and moneychangers from the temple (verse 14-15), the Jews asked him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (verse 18) Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (verse 19). In response to a request for a sign, Jesus again referred to His suffering, death and resurrection.
My brothers and sisters, the sign Jesus referred to in both stories – the sign of His suffering, death and resurrection – is not just a sign for my eyes, it is the sign for my heart. His suffering, death and resurrection speaks to our hearts of God’s mercy and love. In order to be a true believer, I must follow in Jesus’ footsteps, that I deny myself, pick up the cross and follow Him (Mt 16:24). Let us reflect on how we can follow in Jesus’ footsteps in our daily life. If I truly love my neighbour, I could serve without seeking recognition or reward. If I truly love my enemy, I could accept injustice inflicted upon me without seeking revenge. And if I truly love God, I could forgive all who wronged me even without seeking an apology. This is what the sign of Jesus in the tomb teaches me. Otherwise, if my heart is darkened by greed, pride or vengeance, grandeur miracles and theological intellect cannot heal my heart. I cannot find true peace and happiness. This is why the prophet Isaiah said, “Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.’ (Isa 6:10)
In the Second Reading, St Paul proclaims the crucified Christ as the answer to the Jews who demanded sign and the Greek who demanded wisdom. “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (verse 25). If we reason the Commandments of God in our heads, they remain only in our heads, extraneous to our hearts. Let Jesus speak to our hearts as He sums up the Ten Commandments perfectly like this, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. … You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37,39)
Let us open our hearts to Jesus. Amen.