Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO
21st Tuesday in Ordinary Time
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 23: 23-26
It is important to keep in mind that the Pharisees were morally upright and religiously observant people. They were a reform group that was intent upon sanctifying the world by restoring Jewish life to its original purity. They firmly believed that they could bring about Messianic redemption if they could convince everyone to observe the dictates of the Law. They worked tirelessly to unify all the Chosen People in their fidelity to the God Who called them. This being said, why do the Gospels usually present the Pharisees in a negative light?
The comments Pope Francis made to the members of the Curia before Christmas may help us work towards an answer to this question: “We are therefore required… to live ‘speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love’.” At the core of fidelity to the covenant must be the love of God and the people He loves. The Pharisees replaced the love of God with slavish compliance with tenants of the Law.
Like the Pharisees of old, we get into trouble when we obsess on the minor details of ritual devotion and cease to be single-heartedly devoted to the God Who loves us. What starts as a desire for religious piety gradually evolves into self-righteous and hypocritical formalism. The Pharisees provided a great service in teaching and preserving the word of God, how tragic that they were not able to let go of their preconceptions and embrace their Messiah when He came to them. Even though they saw Him, they did not recognize Him. Even though they heard His voice, they did not listen.
Our faith tells us that God has perfect knowledge of us and loves us. As people of faith, all our thoughts and actions are laid open before him. Because God is personal and relational, it is important that we meditate on Divine truths, applying them to our own cases, and that we ponder them with hearts in prayer. In a few months the Synod on the family will meet in Rome. It’s too early to predict the results of that meeting. Are we willing to grapple with the possibilities should the Synod propose solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families that some might consider unacceptable – pastoral practices that when dealing with the Pharisees Jesus called “your own traditions”.
Are we willing to confront the temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).” May we all hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.