My Dear Sisters and Brothers! No one would tie a knot in a handkerchief if they wanted to forget things. In today’s Gospel we heard about a couple of things which have been a part of Jewish life: tassels and phylacteries. Jesus didn’t condemn the use of them but he did criticise using them superficially. These two things were of God’s invention for his people, a tangible means of keeping faith firmly grounded in one’s life. They were like knots in a handkerchief for the Jewish people.
Phylacteries are small leather boxes. One is bound to the inner side of the left arm, and near elbow, so that with the bending of the arm it can rest over the heart. The other is bound in the centre of the forehead ‘between your eyes.’ Inside those boxes there were four passages of the Scriptures. Two were taken from Chapter 13 of Exodus. In the chapter we find God’s words spoken to his people as they were leaving Egypt where they were treated as slaves. The Chapter 13 reminded people of God about keeping alive the memory of that great event when God intervened to free them and to lead them to the Promised Land. To keep that memory alive they were to celebrate Passover annually and to consecrate to God their firstborn sons. In the phylacteries there were texts about celebrating Passover and consecrating the firstborns to God.
As Christians we are also called to treasure the memory of the greatest of all events: Jesus’ death and his Resurrection. The crucifix, which is so prominent in our churches and in our homes and which some of us also wear, reminds us of those blessed events which occurred two thousand years ago in Jerusalem between the night on Holy Thursday and the morning of Easter Sunday. However the crucifix also reminds us that there is a reoccurring annual and weekly celebration, when the New Israel: the people of every race, tongue and nation, who by their common faith in the Lord Jesus and their common Baptism gather to participate in the saving events actualised in the Most Holy Eucharist.
Two other passages inside phylacteries were taken from the Book of Deuteronomy, which were a reminder to observe the commandments of God. One of these two passages reads as follow: ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.’
My Dear fellow believers! That fundamental call to listening is still addressed to us: the New Israel and that what we continue doing as we gather to celebrate the mysteries of our faith. The Liturgy of the Word is a crucial event. When the Word of God is proclaimed we listen, and by our listening we also send a message to the world that God continues speaking to his children. We listen to him and we invite others to join us in listening to God’s Word.
Tassels were another form of remembering. In the Book of Numbers, one of the first five Books of the Old Testament, the following words of God spoken to Moses were recorded: ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and tell them to put tassels on the hems of their garments, and put a violet cord on this tassel at the hem. You must have a tassel, then, and the sight of it will remind you of all the commands of God. You are to put them into practice then, and no longer follow the desires of your heart and your eyes, which have led you to make wantons of yourselves.’ When Jews woke up in the morning, and as soon as in the light of the new day could distinguish the white and violet threads, they would start reciting the passage from the Deuteronomy: ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.’
I would like to encourage you to write down a sentence from the readings you hear at Mass. It should be a sentence which stands out to you for some reasons. May it be your phylactery for the whole week. Return to it in the course of the week. Pray it. Reflect on it. May it remind you that you are a part of the Body of Christ attentively listening to the voice of the Most High.