Read 1 Kings 8:22-23,27-30, Ps. 84:3-5,10-11, Mark 7:1-13

“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.” (Mark 7:7)

In many African communities, kings exercise both material and spiritual authority; often, they play the role of priests during traditional rites. During the temple’s dedication, King Solomon stood before the altar, raised his hands towards heaven, and begged God to remain in the temple, listen to people’s prayers, and forgive their sins. God approved Solomon's worship by revealing his presence as a thick cloud. Meanwhile, in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus revealed that certain things we do in the name of worship annoy Him. This brings us to our lessons today:

1. Is It Possible to Worship God in Vain?: If our worship of God does not come from our hearts, we waste time. Jesus warned that on the Last Day, many would be thrust out of God’s kingdom not because they didn’t know God but because they offered lip service. They would say: “Lord, we ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” In reply, God will tell them: “I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!” (Cf. Luke 13:24-28). God is unhappy with us when we spend all day in church but fail to repent from iniquity.

2. We Worship God in Vain When We Only Care about What Others Think of Us: We waste time when we pay more attention to the outside of the cup than the inside. We worship in vain when we seek the applause of people, but we do not merit such applause. Jesus gave the example of two men who prayed to the temple. One praised himself while insulting the other man; his prayer did not get to God. Meanwhile, the other man, accepting his faults, begged for mercy and went home justified. (Cf. Luke 18:10-14). Seek to please God, not people – shun hypocrisy. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus drew the attention of his critics to their failure to wash their hearts while accusing His disciples of not washing their hands.

3. We Worship in Vain When We Do Not Understand the Inner Purpose of God’s Commandments: In his conversation with the Samaritan Woman, Jesus noted: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.” (John 4:23) We may assume we are following commandments, but in reality, we are offending God. A typical example is the priest and the Levite, who passed the man (who was robbed, beaten, and left half-dead) on the way. Their excuse for not helping was that they didn’t want to touch a dead body, thereby rendering themselves unclean for the Sabbath.

4. We Worship in Vain When We Fail to Care for Our Parents: God is annoyed with us when we fail to love our neighbours in the name of keeping his commandments. We could end up becoming monsters all in the name of worshipping God. This is what Jesus highlights in the tradition of ‘corban’. You waste your tithes and seeds if you don’t care for your parents. As Africans, we know the power of our parents’ blessing supersedes that of any pastor or priest. Be wise and take care of your parents; it’s the fourth commandment and the only one with a blessing. On the other hand, some Christian wives today do not respect their husbands at home, but they treat their pastor/priest like a god. This kind of hypocrisy also annoys God.

Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, free me from hypocrisy so my worship may never be in vain. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (Saints Paul Miki and his Companions, Martyrs. Bible Study: 1 Kings 8:22-23,27-30, Ps. 84:3-5,10-11, Mark 7:1-13).

@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu