Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
My dear encountered couples:
Jesus must not have heard of Clairol. In speaking about the subject of swearing, Jesus told the people: “You have heard the commandment imposed on your forefathers, ‘Do not take a false oath; rather make good to the Lord all your pledges.’ What I tell you is: Do not swear at all. Do not swear by heaven (it is God’s throne), nor by earth (it is his footstool), nor by Jerusalem (it is the city of the great king); do not swear by your head, you cannot make a single hair white or black).” Oh oh, have we finally caught Jesus in an error?
After searching every nook and cranny of the Gospels have we at last come across something Jesus said that is not true? Didn’t Jesus know about hair dye? Didn’t people dye their hair in those days? I think they did, even if Ms. Clairol wasn’t around yet. But whether they did or not, hair coloring in the nineties is an everyday, accepted transformation for not only women, but for men. (If you’re wondering — No I don’t color my hair. I was born looking gorgeous). Anyhow, was Jesus mistaken? Was he incorrect in what he said?
When we color our hair, whether with a dye, a rinse, a tint, or we bleach it, we don’t really change its basic color. We just cover it up. Our natural color, or the gray which has crept in over the years, is still there; Ms. Clairol is just hiding it. That becomes evident to everyone after just a few weeks of shampooing. The substitute color washes off, new hair grows in, the truth becomes revealed in the roots. Now stop looking around at everybody’s hair, You can check out their roots after Mass.
Jesus was right. We don’t really change a single hair from black to white or vice versa. Our basic hair color stays the same, only the exterior is changed. What’s all this have to do with religion? Religion can be used to cover up the type of person we really are deep inside.
We can come to Mass, not only on weekends but everyday, we can pray a lot, travel to the Holy Land, never miss out on a hoped-for appearance of the Blessed Virgin. We can have pictures of Jesus and Mary and the saints hanging all over the house with a crucifix in every room. We can wear medals and scapulars, we can even have a plastic statue of St. Christopher on the dashboards of our cars. We can do all that and much more, but deep down remain the same rotten scoundrels we have always been.
That brings to mind the picture of the Mafia family gathered around the baptismal font, babe in arms, Monsignor pouring the water and saying the words, while other members of the family are out murdering somebody, ordered to do so by the godfather who’s holding the baby. Religion can be used like hair coloring to cover up what we really are deep inside. And this can be done unconsciously as well as consciously.
I doubt that any of us here consciously uses our faith to cover up our real selves. We don’t deliberately pretend we are holy. But we might do it without realizing it. We might not only be fooling others about our real selves, we might be fooling ourselves about our real selves. Maybe we are the only ones we are really fooling. Everybody else might see us for what we are. We sure aren’t fooling God.
Nobody can fool God. God can see into the depths of our souls where dwells our real character, just as he can see the real color of our hair. There is no fooling God. And the closer we get to God, the more we discover there is no fooling of ourselves either. We begin to see ourselves as if under a spot light.
One of the signs that our faith is genuine and not a cover up is the humbling, sincere realization that we are sinners. Stories I’ve read about saints seem to agree on one characteristic common to them all. St. Francis, St. Anthony, St. Theresa and Bernadette, all thought they were the greatest sinners on earth.
The people the Church has canonized, the people the Church has officially proclaimed to be saints and declared to be in heaven with God, are people who thought they were the greatest sinners. The closer those men and women got to God, the more their eyes were open to their imperfections. The more they became like Jesus Christ the more they became aware of their sinfulness.
In honestly comparing themselves to God it was like having their souls X-rayed. They saw their true inner selves revealed. There was no longer any covering up, consciously or unconsciously, their real inner worth. They saw themselves as they were. Without Christ they realized they were nothing. They began to consider themselves the worst of the worst. Their prayers became like that of the publican in the temple, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
When we think ourselves better than others, when we place ourselves in a class above others, when we for any reason look down on others, when we criticize others, when we condemn others, when we make them the butt of our ridicule and we shame them, we are most likely not seeing ourselves in the light of Christ. Our eyes are blinded to our own faults. As Jesus said, we are quick to see the speck in someone else’s eye, while missing completely the plank in our own.
As I’ve probably said before: Humility is facing the facts. Growth in genuine holiness reveals the facts about ourselves to ourselves. That does not mean we have to go around groveling and beating our breasts, announcing to everyone what sinners and low lifes we are. But having the information of the truth about ourselves can help us treat others not only with the greatest of respect, but with understanding and compassion. In finally realizing the extent of God’s forgiveness of us, we just might be able to begin genuinely forgiving others and letting go of our grudges. We will at last know what divine love is, it will dawn on us what love of neighbor means.
“You cannot make a single hair white or black,” Jesus said. We can’t make ourselves good and holy either. But Jesus can, the Holy Spirit can. Go to God’s beauty parlor, let him do you over. When you come out you will not only look good, you will be good, deep down inside.up everyone's life.