22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

A group of students were taking notes while their professor lectured. Eventually, one of the students raised her hand and asked him to go slower. “I’m sorry class, I’m trying to catch up with my thoughts. I think faster than I speak,” said the professor. Perhaps, we can add to that, not only do we think faster than we speak but we tend to speak faster than we act. There is a lack of congruence between the speed and the volume of our thoughts, speech, and actions. Many of us think a lot, say much, and act little.

Action starter: “Mean what you say, and do the good that you mean.”

This lack of congruence also happens in terms of the substance of our thoughts, speech, and action. Our intentions and our words are supposed to be matched by our actions. This congruence is illustrated by a story about Mahatma Gandhi. A child was brought to him by the parents for correction regarding certain unpleasant habits that he has developed. Gandhi told them to come back a few months later. He was trying to overcome an unhealthy craving for sweets. He could only correct the child after he has corrected himself. This is congruence. This is also called integrity.

The readings this Sunday show the need for unity between our knowledge of God’s laws and our observance of them. The first reading from Exodus shows Moses telling the people, “Obey all the laws that I am teaching you, and you will live and occupy the land which the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you (Ex. 4:1).” In the same vein, James reminds the community, “Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to His word; instead, put it into practice (Ja. 1:22).” In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds his hearers about the meaning of true observance of the law. It is observing not just the letter but the true intent of God’s law. And He quoted from the prophet Isaiah, “These people, says God, honor me with their words, but their heart is really far away from me. (Mk. 7:6).”

Jesus uses one word to describe those who lack congruence in what they say and do. He calls them hypocrites. A hypocrite is a fraud, an impostor, a pretender. He says one thing and does another. He wears two faces. A hypocrite is a liar.

One serious book I read gave some justification for hypocrisy. The author submits that some hypocrisy is needed for society to work. Not all teachers observe the ideals they teach the children. Not all doctors live healthy lives. Not all politicians fulfill their promises. Not all religious live holy lives. Not all parents do what they tell their children to do. According to the author, we strive to teach despite our shortcomings. I remember particularly one doctor who was known in town as a drunkard and a smoker. He advises his patients, “Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Don’t be like me.”

Human nature is flawed in a way that we do not always do what we say or follow our own ideals. The lesson for us is that we can lessen the gap between thoughts, words, and actions. We do the good that we intend to do, especially when we have enfleshed them in words and promises. Thus we establish congruence and integrity in our lives. A test may be fulfilling the promises and vows that we have made to ourselves. There are no witnesses. Only we and God know what we have promised ourselves.