August 26, 2013
Matthew 23: 13-22
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ How blind you are!
For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
Woe to you, hypocrites!
It’s so easy to look around and find the scribes and Pharisees of our own day. I have done this often myself. I can argue for a better ecclesiology than some that are emphasized, or which rules should take precedence over others. I may even be right in what I’m arguing.
As a theologian I certainly believe there is a place for such deliberations and that these discussions are important. At the same time, today’s Gospel challenges us in two ways. First, rather than pointing fingers, maybe we should consider the ways in which we might be the scribes and the Pharisees. Is there any way in which Paul’s “woes” are aimed at us? (Certainly not!) Second, how can we rise above such discussions in our day-to-day practice of our faith and in the evangelization we are called to?
Pope Francis has given us a great model so far. In his first several months as Pope, he seems to be following his namesake’s famous quote: “Preach the gospel; use words only when necessary.” Such an adage may lessen the rhetoric and Pharisaic moments and help us all live out the Gospel and preach it more fully.
Jesus’ mission was to reconcile the world in Christ. Help us to remember that everything Jesus did—healing, teaching, reprimanding—were only signs of that deeper miracle which is the re-creation of the world. Reconciliation is the re-creation of the world, which is Jesus’ profound mission of redemption of sinners.
Help us also to remember that Jesus did not redeem us with words, with actions or by walking on the road. He did it with his flesh. It is truly he, God, who becomes one of us, to heal us from within. Let our daily focus be on accepting the grace and healing that comes from Jesus.
—Adapted from Pope Francis homily of July 4, 2013
—Elizabeth Collier has degrees from three different Jesuit universities, including a PhD in Christian Ethics from Loyola University Chicago. She teaches at Dominican University in River Forest, IL.
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