March 5, 2011 - Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

We have often heard Jesus say that we must have the heart of a child. Children are selfish, greedy, and lazy. In other words, they are human just like us. We do not need to idealize children as perfect little angels. What we do want to admire and emulate is their simplicity. Not the simplicity of understanding. It is good that we come to understand the world around us better as we age; this is called wisdom and is the gift of God. The essential characteristic of a child’s heart which we want to preserve in ourselves is the simplicity of expression called sincerity. There is no one as sincere as a small child, often to the mortification of their parents. It is a sad day when a child learns pretense, not merely to lie but to become a lie.

In the Gospel today we see the stark contrast between the absolute sincerity of Jesus and the cynical pretense of the scribes, Pharisees, and elders. They ask Jesus a question: “By what authority are you doing these things?” Jesus promises to answer the question if they answer his seemingly unrelated question: “Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin?” They huddle up and discuss his question. Now we see cynicism at work. These religious leaders are not trying to discern the truth; they are trying to win a game. In fact, as they are discussing this among themselves, they reveal that they already heard John the Baptist point out Jesus as the Messiah. They have completely lost their capacity for sincerity: they cannot ask a sincere question; they will not give a sincere answer.

Sincerity is not everything; it is not praiseworthy to be sincerely a jerk. We need sincerity together with a desire to be perfect. Sincerity can be terrifying, opening wide all the curtains on our soul, letting the world see our hopes and fears, our successes and failures. Sincerity means not putting on a mask every morning; when we are sincere, we reveal our real self to the world. Then we must work to make ourselves better. When we have a fault we can leave it be, or try to conceal it with insincerity, or we can try to cure it in our soul. Our object is neither to be sincerely bad nor to be insincerely good. We want to be perfect, actually perfect.