Tuesday, August 25, 2015

“A pure heart faces the worst kind of evil in this world. But as it sleeps it's blessed and it wakes up cleansed and a little bit stronger.”

Christ asks for a home in your soul, where he can be at rest with you, where he can talk easily to you, where you and he, alone together, can laugh and be silent and be delighted with one another. - CARYLL HOUSELANDER (1901 – 1954: A lay Roman Catholic writer and poet)

Gospel Text: (Mt 23:23-26)
Jesus said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier things of the law:
judgment and mercy and fidelity.
But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.
Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You cleanse the outside of cup and dish,
but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup,
so that the outside also may be clean.”

Ever wonder why there are so many gospel stories featuring the Pharisees in a role antagonistic to Jesus? The Pharisees were morally and religiously upright people, a reform party in Judaism concerned with restoring Jewish worship to its true roots. So why do the Gospels cast the Pharisees in such a negative light? 

Today’s gospel captures the essence of their mistake – neglecting the weightier things of the law – judgment and mercy and fidelity.  “Religiously observant” Christians are tempted to the same error. Observing the fine points of the regulations is not how we earn God’s favor. We already have that; rather these “fine points” are simply descriptions of how someone who is consumed by mercy and fidelity would typically behave.

In Mark’s version of this exchange (Mk 7:9), Jesus accuses the Pharisees this way: “How ingeniously you get around the commandments of God in order to observe your own tradition!”  Are we guilty of the same error? Have we ingeniously found ways to justify, for example, our disagreements about Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment?  (“Well, he’s not an economist, after all . . .).

Clearly today’s gospel invites us, “pious observant” Christians, to stand in the shoes of the Pharisees for a while.  Do they fit? Is Jesus’ criticism applicable to us? It’s worth thinking about – praying about.

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