September 9, 2018

WALK THE TALK

BIBLE READINGS
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:14-23
 

REFLECTION

What does it mean to talk the talk and walk the walk?
What other variations of the saying have you heard?
What are some other phrases that have the same meaning?

Wirapol Sukhpol was a Buddhist monk from Thailand who is also known as the jet-set monk. In 2013, a video of him emerged on YouTube and it went viral. In the video, he was wearing his traditional dark orange robe that monks usually wear. But his dress was not the reason why the video went viral. The picture was taken while he was flying in a private jet. Besides his traditional robe, he also wore fashionable and expensive-looking sunglasses. There was also a Luis Vuitton bag next to him. People mocked the video, giving it the title: Now Boarding Air Nirvana.

But what appear on the video were only the surface. Thailand’s Anti-Money Laundering unit discovered 41 bank accounts that were linked to him. Some of the accounts kept more than six million USD. In 2009 and 2011, he bought 22 new Mercedes Benz, worth more than three million USD. These cars were new additions to his fleet of 70 luxury cars. The private jet, which he chartered regularly for domestic trips, costed him around 10.000 USD each round-trip. And he always paid in cash.

He was indeed a popular monk. One of his female followers said that his voice was beautiful and mesmerizing. “He captivated all of us with his words," she said. But she now feels betrayed by him because his life does not match his words. Buddhist monks have to make a vow of living in simplicity and poverty. Wirapol lived a lifestyle that was the complete opposite of Buddhist monk’s philosophy. He used the money that his followers, rich and poor, donated to feed his jet-set lifestyle.[1] 

Our passage today, from the letter of James, also cautions first-century Christians against hypocrisy. Their actions must match their words. They must not only listen to God’s word, but also submit themselves to it and put it into practice.

James asked his readers to pay attention to the “perfect law”. But what did he mean with “perfect law”? Later in his letter, he would write,

“You will be doing the right thing if you obey the law of the Kingdom, which is found in the scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.'"[2]

The quotation to “love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself” is from the book of Leviticus.[3] It was also quoted by Jesus as the second of the greatest commandments.[4]

So, the “perfect law” is the law of love. Obeying this law will set us free. But we will be set free not by learning about love, but by doing it. Love is not only a noun, but also a verb. According to James, if we learn about love, but never do it, we will be like someone who looks at his reflection on the mirror, but does nothing. 

Friends, mirror is created for self-reflection. By looking at our reflection on the mirror, we know if there is something wrong with us. If we look overweight, we may want to cancel our Foxtel or Netflix subscription and get a gym subscription instead. When we look too skinny, we may want to cancel our gym subscription and get a Foxtel or Netflix subscription instead. When our mirror tells us that we’ve lost hair, we can decide whether to wear a wig, a hat, or go bald. When a patch on our skin looks a bit abnormal in the mirror, we need to check it with our doctor. To learn about love but never put it into real action is like someone who discovers something wrong with him from his own reflection on the mirror, but then takes no action.

The key word here is integrity. Our action must match our words, otherwise people will ignore our message. How can others pay attention to our message if we ourselves fail to live up to what we preach? 

One of my favourite contemporary musicians is an American hip-hop band called the Black Eyed Peas. One of their hit singles is the song Where is The Love. Listening to the song is like listening to a contemporary version of our passage from the letter to James. Here is a short extract from the song (disclaimer: for those who know this song, I can’t do an American accent, so forgive me for destroying the song; you have the option to close your ears now; otherwise listen at you own peril):

Madness is what you demonstrate
And that's exactly how anger works and operates
Man, you gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love, y'all, y'all 

People killin', people dyin'
Children hurt and you hear them cryin'
Can you practice what you preach?
Or would you turn the other cheek? 

Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
'Cause people got me, got me questionin'
Where is the love?
 

Good artists like the Black Eyed Peas are often able to expose the incongruence and hypocrisy of our society. Their lyrics can help us gauge the condition of our soul.

Jesus gave a similar message in our reading today from Mark’s Gospel. Our reading today is preceded by another story.[5] That other story tells about some of Jesus’ disciples who ate without first washing their hands. Living in 21st century, washing hands before eating is a hygienic practice (at least my mum told me that). We know that unwashed hands can be filled with invisible germs that can harm us.

But for the Pharisees, cleaning one’s hands before eating was not about being hygienic. For them, washing one’s hands before eating was about keeping the religious law of purity. People also ought to wash anything they bought from the market or wash themselves after returning it.[6]

It sounds like a good practice to me. When I was a kid, every time I came back from a traditional market with my mum, my feet would be covered in mud and I would smell like the fish and the pungent spices that the vendors sold there. (But the market is still my favourite place to go to.) I guess the Jewish market in Jesus’ time was similar to the traditional market I used to go in Indonesia.

But, again, the Pharisees didn’t worry about the market’s hygiene. For them, the market was not a religiously pure place. As such, the people who were there were not religiously clean either. That’s why one had to clean oneself after coming into contact with the ‘dirty’ people in the market.

For Jesus, however, what made someone unclean was not what came into, but what came out of that person. It was not what the person ate that defiled him, but what he did. And Jesus made this point clear in his ministry when he healed sick people in the marketplace. For him, what made someone unclean was not coming into contact with ‘dirty’ people, but ignoring their plight.

Indeed, living a true Christian life is about living a life the way Jesus lived his: a life of service towards others. We are to walk the talk, to practise what we preach, and not simply talk the talk.

 Let me finish this reflection by quoting wise sayings. The first one is attributed to Francis of Asisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. He is believed to say,

“Your life may be the only sermon some people will hear today.”[7]

He also said that he considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died.[8] The other one is a traditional Indian saying that says,

“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life in such a manner that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”[9] 

Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] Jocelyn Gecker, Wirapol Sukphol, Jet-Set Buddhist Monk Shocks Thailand With Religious Scandal. Updated: 17/09/2013 19:12 AEST on www.huffingtonpost.com
[2] James 2:8 - GNT
[3] Leviticus 19:18
[4] Mark 12:31
[5] Mark 7:1-13
[6] Elizabeth Webb, Commentary on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, August 30, 2015 on www.workingpreacher.org
[7] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFUSION Pentecost 1 2015 (Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2014), p. 199
[8] Francis of Asisi, an article in er.wikipedia.org
[9] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFUSION Pentecost 1 2015 (Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2014), p. 199