13Jan Thursday 13th January

Hebrews 3:7ff. Our hearts are to be open, with confidence towards God today, not hardened, doubting and complaining.

Mark 1:40ff. Jesus touches and cures the leper; the man ignores his instructions and proceeds to tell everyone about it.

Discerning true from false religiosity

The Scripture today invites us to evaluate our reliance on externals, whether visible religious objects like the ark of the covenant, or flamboyant religious services, or miracles like the cure of the leper, or customs and routines in which we are set and hardened. “Today,” advises the psalmist, whose text is quoted in Hebrews, God offers new graces and new insights to enable us to enter into a deeper peace within our heart.

The Scriptures stress the supreme importance of faith, in interpreting what happens in our lives. As the reading from Hebrews insists, today we must not harden our hearts. Today our heart must be open to new graces and most of all to God’s personal presence. The external aspects of religion, even the most sacred doctrines and holiest objects, are meant to facilitate our interior communion with the Lord. Our inmost hearts, where silence prevails and distractions are absent – our hearts that seem like “desert places” – are the true ark of the covenant and place of wonders. Yet for his own mysterious reasons, God allows the externals on which we rely seemingly to collapse. The Ark will be captured by the enemy. The tried and true of religious practice and belief suddenly seem inadequate to our needs and leave us lonely, feeling helpless. We must traverse this desert to find Jesus.

Discerning true from false religiosity is not always easy. Mysteriously enough, religious leaders bear the brunt of blame if superstition and selfishness are rampant among the people – or if the people cannot distinguish true from false forms of religion. But each one of us is a religious leader in one way or another: as parent or teacher, as priest or minister, as neighbour or friend. In all of these capacities we influence others and are responsible for the moral attitude and strength of faith in others.

The Scriptures put serious questions to us: Do I use my position of authority to dominate others or to acquire personal benefits or to further personal career? Do I seek to slip away from the centre of attention, so that my words and actions lead others to prayer and recollection in God’s presence? Do I avoid the temptation of bragging about religious accomplishments, perhaps the leper’s fault, once he was healed by Jesus and consider favours as signs of the Lord’s personal love and concern?

First Reading: Hebrews 3:7-14

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, ad I said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known my ways.’ As in my anger I swore, ‘They will not enter my rest.'”
Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.

Gospel: Mark 1:40-45

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

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