What is the cause of our misery and unhappiness
in life? Quite often, we think the problem lies outside of us. We blame our unhappiness on people around us who make our life difficult or on the situation. They are our scapegoats for those times when we got angry or unhappy. This is precisely what the Pharisees and Scribes thought. They thought that salvation has to do with external ritual purification. But in the gospel Jesus made it clear. He said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean.”
These words of Jesus were certainly a shock and scandal to the Jews, considering that King Antiochus IV, during the time of his reign, persecuted the Jews by seeking to eliminate the Jewish religion. He caused them to violate their religious laws by forcing them to consume unclean food, as in the case of the seven brothers who were put to death before the eyes of their mother in the Second Book of Maccabees because they refused to eat unclean food as commanded by the King. (Confer 2 Mac 7) So when Jesus made light of their dietary Laws by permitting the consumption of unclean food, it surely would have evoked much emotional despair that their ancestors died for nothing!
Yet, Jesus was simply enlightening them on the real cause of their unhappiness in life. Holiness is not an external performance but an interior conversion of the heart. Certainly, outward rituals and displays of religiosity are important insofar as it helps and promotes devotion to God and a reminder of our love for Him, but it cannot replace the interior devotion of the heart.
Real transformation must begin from within, since the root of the problem lies within the hearts of men; not with the external environment. Indeed, as Jesus told His disciples, “It is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.”
So the heart is the real source of our defilement, the evil desires that come from the innermost being of the person. Sin is not from external forces. Such secret desires and intentions are conceived first in the mind and heart of the individual. Action follows from thoughts. So it is because the mind is evil and the heart has evil desires that a person performs sinful actions.
For this reason, Jesus comes to enlighten us so that He can free us from the web of sin. He is truly the Wisdom of God in person. Knowing where the cause of our misery lies is the beginning of true freedom. The book of Proverbs says, “Happy the man who discovers wisdom, the man who gains discernment; gaining her is more rewarding than silver, more profitable than gold. She is beyond the price of pearls; nothing you could covet is her equal.” (Prov 3:13-15) So if we want to be liberated from our bondage to sin, we must look into the depths of our heart. Jesus, as our teacher of wisdom, will lead us to enter into the depth of our souls.
What, then, is the cause for such a heart, since evil comes from within us? In Christian understanding, the cause of our brokenness comes from a wounded nature, which the Church speaks of as Original Sin. As a result, we have lost the grace of God to battle against the enemies of the Kingdom of God. As the Church tells us, original sin is a deprivation of original holiness and justice. The consequence of original sin is that our human nature has been “wounded in the natural powers proper to it,” and that it is subject to “ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called ‘concupiscence.’”
This concupiscence, which is now part of our human nature, causes the disordered tendencies, be it inordinate lust, greed or any form of craving in our lives. When we give in to these excessive cravings, we defile ourselves. Hence, holiness and purification must begin from within. We must heal our hearts and minds so that we can overcome our disorientation and lack of self-control. Nevertheless, the Church, whilst affirming that our nature is fallen and weakened, assures us that we have not lost our freedom to choose. We are still responsible for our choices and thus cannot exonerate ourselves from all blame to original sin. Yet it is true that the power to exercise that freedom of choice is weakened.
In the light of this dilemma, St Paul says, “if death came to reign through that one man, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:15). Indeed, it is true that sin continues to reign in us but it is equally true that we have been given the grace to overcome the temptations and roots of sin. What is needed is that we must turn to Christ who can heal us of our brokenness by assuring us that we are loved unconditionally by His Father and have been forgiven of our sins. His death on the cross and His resurrection are the surety for us that sin and death have been overcome and what reigns is love and life.
Most of all, He gives us His Spirit at the resurrection to help us struggle with our hurtful desires and sinful tendencies. We are given the necessary grace and strength to resist and overcome sin. Through the Holy Spirit too, we are freed from our guilt and the destructive forces of sin in our personal lives. The Holy Spirit comes to empower us and enlighten us in Christ so that we can walk the way of wisdom.
Accordingly, we must turn to Christ who can heal us by first enlightening us of our follies in life. The book of Hebrews asks us to turn to Christ to purify our hearts. Jesus who is “the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” (Heb 4:12f) Recourse to the Word of God is the only way to gain wisdom of heart.
We must learn from the Queen of Sheba. When she heard of the wisdom of King Solomon, she came to discover for herself instead of simply being contented with the reports about him. She said, “What I heard in my own country about you and your wisdom was true, then! Until I came and saw it with my own eyes I could not believe what they told me, but clearly they told me less than half: for wisdom and prosperity you surpass the report I heard.” Indeed, the Queen tested Solomon with many difficult questions and “Solomon had an answer for all her questions, not one of them was too obscure for the king to expound.” We must therefore no longer delay in coming to Christ our Wisdom teacher to help us under the truth about ourselves and what it takes to free us from our sins. To know true wisdom, we need the Holy Spirit who gives us the Wisdom of Christ our Lord by enabling us to understand the Word of God that Christ has left to His Church.