August 30 2015 Reflection

14th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 15

James 1:17-27
Mark 7:14-23


Wirapol Sukhpol is a 33-year-old Buddhist monk from Thailand who is also known as the jet-set monk. In 2013, a video emerged on YouTube, depicting the monk in a private jet. He was wearing his traditional dark orange monk dress together with his fashionable and expensive-looking sunglasses and a Luis Vuitton bag next to him.

You-tubers mocked the video, giving it a title: Now Boarding Air Nirvana. But that was not the end

Thailand’s Anti-Money Laundering discovered 41 bank accounts that were linked to him; some of the accounts kept more than six millions USD. In 2009 and 2011, he bought 22 new Mercedes Benz, worth more than three millions USD, adding more 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. (Even my car costs less than half of that. Does it mean I should consider being a Buddhist monk?)

He was a popular monk. One woman said that, "His voice was beautiful, it was mesmerising. He captivated all of us with his words." But she now feels betrayed by her monk whose life does not match his words. Buddhist monks have to make a vow of living in simplicity and poverty. Wirapol, however, used the money that his followers, rich and poor, donated to feed his luxurious lifestyle.[1]

Our passage today, from the letter of James, also cautions Christians against hypocrisy in their life. Their actions must match their words. They must not only listen to God’s word, but also submit to it and put it into practice (v. 21-22).

James asked his readers to pay attention to the “perfect law” (v. 25). But what did he mean with this “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' (James 2:8 GNT)." The quotation is from the book Leviticus 19:18 and was also quoted by Jesus as the second of the greatest commandments (Mark 12:31).

So the “perfect law” is the law of love. Obeying this law will set us free (v. 25). We, however, will be set free not by learning about love, but by doing it. “Love is a verb,” said an anonymous person.[2] Indeed, 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 forget how he looks like.

Friends, mirror is created for self-reflection. By looking at our reflection on the mirror, we know if there is something wrong with us. When we look overweight in the mirror, we may want to cancel our Foxtel subscription and get a gym subscription instead. When we look too skinny in the mirror, we may want to cancel our gym subscription and get a Foxtel subscription instead. When our mirror tells us that we’ve lost a lot of hair, we need to decide whether to wear a wig, wear a hat, stay indoor, or to go completely 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 looks at his/her own reflection on the mirror, but then forgets what to do.

The key word is integrity. Our action must match our words, otherwise people will ignore our message. Indeed, how can others pay attention to the Church proclaiming gospel and the message of peace and love if the Church itself fail to live up to what it preaches.

One of my favourite contemporary artists 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 the contemporary version of our passage from the Ephesians. Here is a short extract from the song (for those who know this song, I can’t rap with an American accent, so forgive me for destroying the song):

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 passage today is preceded by another passage (Mark 7:1-13) that tells the story about some of Jesus’ disciples eating 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; it was about keeping the tradition and the religious law of purity. For them, people ought to wash anything they bought from the market before eating it or wash themselves after returning from the market before eating.[3] 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 in the market. I guess the Jewish market in Jesus’ time would be similar to the traditional market I used to go in Indonesia.

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

For Jesus, however, what made someone religiously unclean was not what came into that person but what came out of that person. In other words, it was not what the person ate that defiled him religiously, but what he did. And Jesus made his point clear in his ministry when he healed sick people in the marketplace (Mark 6:55-56). For him, what made someone unclean in God's eyes was not coming into contact with ‘dirty’ people, and then failed to wash oneself, but ignoring their plight.

Indeed, living a true Christian life is about living a life the way Jesus lived his: a live of service towards others. We are to walk the talk and not simply talk the talk. Francis of Asisi is attributed with having said, “Your life may be the only sermon some people will hear today.”[4] And I would like to end this reflection with 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.”[5]


Rockingham, Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Jocelyn Gecker, Wirapol Sukphol, Jet-Set Buddhist Monk Shocks Thailand With Religious Scandal, Posted: 18/07/2013 20:37 AEST Updated: 17/09/2013 19:12 AEST ( /2013/07/18/thailand-riveted-by-jetse_n_3615742.html?ir=Australia)

[2] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFUSION Pentecost 1 2015 (Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2014), p. 199

[3] Elizabeth Webb, Commentary on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, August 30 2015 (http://www.

[4] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFUSION Pentecost 1 2015 (Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2014), p. 199

[5] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFUSION Pentecost 1 2015 (Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2014), p. 199