This Wednesday’s Gospel (Mt 23: 27-32) presents a small portion of chapter 23, where Jesus denounces the scribes and Pharisees for various sinful behaviors:
Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what you ancestors measured out!”
I believe that our Lord loved these scribes and Pharisees as much as He loves any of us, and yet He presented before them all their ungodly practices and acts. Perhaps Jesus, in His frustration at their lack of acceptance, was hoping to startle them into repentance, and yet, He must have known that there was little chance that this shaming was going to work. They would not stop until Jesus was apprehended and killed.
Jesus points out the large load of sin that His beloved people had been carrying for generations, the stubbornness, the pride, and the fear that had led to the persecution and killing of so many prophets in the past. This unfortunate “tradition” would continue and end with Him. They and their ancestors had “measured out” a large quantity of injustice and suffering that had to be atoned for. This huge absence of righteousness had to be filled up by them. Instead, because of God’s incredible love, it would be filled with the blood and anguish of our crucified Lord for the forgiveness of all.
In an earlier part of Chapter 23 (vv 2-3) Jesus says,
“The scribes and Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.”
Sadly, this ominous accusation can apply to all of us, disciples of Christ, in today’s world. In one way of another, despite our pious, clean exteriors (specially when we go to Mass), like the graves that Jesus talks about, our souls carry the deadly rot of sin to a lesser or greater extent.
On the August 25 issue of USA Today, I was reading the long, disturbing article about the the numerous court cases across our country, regarding the sex abuse scandal in our Church. It is awful to see people who, like the Pharisees, are religious leaders who are to set the example of God’s love for us, and instead abuse their power in such cruel, destructive ways. The culprits were not only priests, but also “church employees,” lay people. Even though these persons are a small minority of us and we will not “follow their example,” we are called to “do and observe whatever they tell” us, to follow the teachings of our church and be examples of justice, goodness and love for whole world. Our Body of Christ might have areas of damage, but we will keep it alive, because His Holy Spirit heals and fortifies us as his Church.
I look within the tomb of my inner self and see so much that I am ashamed of. The Risen Lord is there, He Who comes “to judge the living” and Who illuminates with His great light exposes every fault within that crypt. I must admit these faults, accept them, and confess them.
The Lord has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Here, His Holy Spirit comes within and cleanses these earthen vessels with His Glory. He gives us relief, hope, strength, and confidence in His goodness, so that we ourselves will strive to share in His holiness and mercy. He loves us. This is what He wants for us.
Beloved Father in Heaven, Beloved Master, thank You for the saving power of Your Holy Spirit! Don’t give up on us; have mercy on us!