Tag Archives: scribes

The Cross of Confusion

Mark’s Gospel describes growing numbers following Jesus in Galilee as he begins his ministry, but growing numbers also find him hard to understand, the gospel says.


Scribes come from Jerusalem and say he has a demon, the Pharisees begin to plot with the Herodians, the followers of Herod Antipas about putting him to death. When they hear about him in Nazareth, his relatives say, “No, he doesn’t have a demon. He may be out of his mind,” and they come to bring him home.

Besides the leading elite and people from his hometown, ordinary people begin to distance themselves too. They may be the people in Mark’s Gospel today who question him “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Mark 2, 18-22) Not only Jewish leaders and scholars, not only his own family and his hometown, but ordinary people of Galilee find him too much for them.

Jesus brought change, radical change, and change can be hard to accept. Many who heard him weren’t ready for new wine, they preferred the old.

Commentators describe Mark’s gospel as a Passion Narrative with a prelude. In other words, Mark’s early stories announce the story of his Passion and Death and Resurrection. Jesus dies alone, forsaken by many ordinary people who flocked to him at first.

Commentators also see Mark’s gospel written to help the Christians of Rome facing a surprising brutal persecution by Nero in the mid 60s. Rome usually singled out Christian leaders in times of persecution, but this persecution seemed to strike at ordinary Christians as well. The senseless, arbitrary persecution left Rome’s Christians confused and wondering what this all meant. Mark’s account reminds his followers they must follow him without always understanding.

Confusion and lack of understanding are part of our world today, aren’t they? We are living in a time of rapid changes. For many, the old wine, the “old days” are better.

The Cross of Jesus may not come as hard wood and nails. As in Mark’s Gospel, it can come in confusion and lack of understanding. A Cross hard to bear.

To Save Life or to Destroy It?

“To Save Life or to Destroy It?”
Luke 6:6-11 in a couplet
Monday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
Related posts: The Heart of the Sabbath, Out of Heart, Out of Mind, Christ Unlocks the Kingdom
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

On another sabbath he went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him. But he realized their intentions and said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up and stand before us.” And he rose and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Looking around at them all, he then said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so and his hand was restored. But they became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

Luke 6:6-11

Jesus’ either/or question in Luke 6:9 is put very plainly in the Greek. The Revised Standard Version preserves the word order:

And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 

The human heart is designed to follow the natural principle “do good and avoid evil” spontaneously. Sin is irrational, as the apostle Paul noted: “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Romans 7:19). 

The scribes and Pharisees failed to rejoice at the healing of their brother, and instead became “enraged” (Luke 6:11). Other translations say “filled with madness,” “senseless rage,” “mindless rage,” “fury,” and “anger.” The word Luke used suggests irrationality, from anoia—“no mind.” 

The heart of Christ, filled with compassion for the suffering, and free of envy and bitterness, is a healthy, whole, Spirit-filled mind. The healing of the man with a withered hand is a sign of full restoration in grace—healing of body, mind, soul, spirit, heart, thoughts and emotions. 

Christ Unlocks the Kingdom

“Christ unlocks the kingdom”
Matthew 23:13-22 in a couplet 
Monday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it.”

Matthew 23:13-22

You Have but One Father in Heaven

“You have but one Father in heaven”
Matthew 23:1-12 “in a snailshell”
Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Related posts: Lent, Day 12, Abba, Draw Us to Your Son, Mysteries Too Deep, Servant Leadership
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the 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. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Matthew 23:1-12

Between the Creator and creation, there is no barrier. Phylacteries and tassels, like the fig leaves of Eden, seek cover from the original, naked simplicity before God. 

As no barrier exists between the Son and the Father, none exists between the Son’s brethren and the Father. Abba’s children are directly in his hand and in his womb. God designed the human person to hear his voice directly in the Spirit. The Son of God came to restore Adam’s union with the Father, for “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

In the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus quotes Isaiah 54:13, which prophesies a new intimacy with the Father:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.

It is written in the prophets:
‘They shall all be taught by God.’

Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.

John 6:44-45

All your children shall be taught by the Lord;
great shall be the peace of your children.

Isaiah 54:13

The Hebrew word for “peace” is shalom, which means wholeness, soundness, and completeness in God. Fractured Adam and his offspring will be made whole by the Spirit of God:

I will pour out water upon the thirsty ground,
streams upon the dry land;
I will pour out my spirit upon your offspring,
my blessing upon your descendants.

Isaiah 44:3

The law of life written on hearts is the voice of the Holy Spirit, our interior teacher:

But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days—oracle of the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. They will no longer teach their friends and relatives, “Know the Lord!” Everyone, from least to greatest, shall know me—oracle of the Lord—for I will forgive their iniquity and no longer remember their sin.

Jeremiah 31:33-34

And I will give them another heart and a new spirit I will put within them. From their bodies I will remove the hearts of stone, and give them hearts of flesh, so that they walk according to my statutes, taking care to keep my ordinances.

Ezekiel 11:19-20

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost fulfilled the prophecy of Joel:

It shall come to pass
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions. 
Even upon your male and female servants,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Joel 2:28-29 (NABRE: Joel 3:1-2); cf. Acts 2:17-18

The essence of prophecy is the recognition of truth, which is given by the Holy Spirit:

But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.

John 16:13

In the Last Supper Discourse, Jesus enigmatically told the disciples that the hour and day is coming when he will no longer intercede for them. They will find themselves “in the Father” just as the Son is “in the Father.”

I have told you this in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father. On that day you will ask in my name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you. For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God.

John 16:25-27

I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.

John 17:20-23

Out of Heart, Out of Mind

Byzantine Mosaic of Jesus Healing the Man with the Withered Hand

23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Luke 6:6-11

On a certain sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.

Dressed in their Sabbath best, the laser keen eyes of Jesus’ analysts beamed through the hollow sockets of their exterior masks to size him up. A man with a withered hand happened to be there—conveniently? Conspiracy theories have been around for a long time: some commentators wonder if the handicapped man was “planted” to trap Jesus1. At any rate, the poor brother was regarded as a snare on this occasion. The hunters were fixed on their prey.

But he realized their intentions and said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up and stand before us.” And he rose and stood there. 

Luke alone of the Synoptics narrates this detail of Jesus reading the hearts of his accusers. Masquerading in the divine presence was impossible; the thoughts and intentions of the heart were transparent to Jesus. 

What was the disabled man thinking? Was he hoping that the famed teacher and healer would restore him this day? We are not informed, as the decoy’s subjectivity was drowned out by the intensity of the protagonists. Silently he obeyed Jesus’ summons to “stand in the midst” of the assembly. 

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” 

With the deftness of a cross-examiner, Jesus put forward an either/or question that completely circumvented the legal issue of “working” on the Sabbath. The question was rhetorical: doing evil and destroying life were obviously out of the question. However, doing good or saving life hardly occurred to the disputants, but not because their tradition did not encourage it. In fact, the Mishnah Yoma (a pillar of Talmudic literature) did permit saving human life on the Sabbath: “every potential danger to human life overrides Shabbat” (8:6). 

The clash with Jesus was not inevitable. If more care had been taken to reflect on the essence of the law as handed down to Moses and the prophets, concord might have been possible. After all, the Law and the Prophets were given in preparation for the coming of Christ.

Passion and anger, unfortunately, overrode wisdom and intuition. 

Looking around at them all, he then said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so and his hand was restored. 

Jesus’ merciful heart overcame intimidation and suffered the consequences, but what a joyous day for the brother who was healed! 

But they became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

If the good of another does not spontaneously evoke joy, something is deeply amiss in the depths of the heart. The word Luke used for “enraged” suggests irrationality, from anoia (ἄνοια)—“no mind.” The whole group exploded into folly, madness, fury and rage. Heart, mind, reason, emotions, and senses went to war in the interior battlefield. The heart and mind were crushed to the ground by the stampede of anger and its minions. 

The God whom the scribes and Pharisees wanted to honor stood before them unrecognized. Beyond sight and sound, he was actually inseparable from them, living within and upholding their very existence. But to the exterior senses, Jesus was reduced to a target and an object of wrath.


1 New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition, edited by G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson, R.T. France, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000, p. 990.

Heart Surgery

Christ Pantocrator, 13th century Serbian icon

18th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14

After the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the five thousand, and numerous signs and wonders, Jesus was causing quite a stir. Without summoning, this ordinary son of a carpenter in Galilee compelled the most elite members of Israel to journey all the way from Jerusalem to ask him a question.

Some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash their hands when they eat a meal.”

The question was not about hygiene, but about the very foundations of Judaism. Levitical laws and tradition drew a sharp line between what was “clean” and “unclean,” and developed complex regulations for ceremonial washing in order to approach the all-holy God. Failure to comply with these rules gave the impression of impiety or sacrilege. 

Tunnel vision caused by prolonged squinting at the fine print of the law and centuries of accretions made the lawyers forget the basics. In large print, on tablets of stone, Moses had presented the Decalogue with natural precepts like, “Honor your father and your mother.” 

Legal sophistry found loopholes to avoid the care of elderly parents:

But you say, ‘Whoever says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God,” need not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition. (Matthew 15:5)

The Pharisees and scribes made it legal to dedicate money and property to the Temple with this unloving intention. God was being used. Such sophistries drove a wedge between love of God and love of neighbor. The first commandment was used to violate the second.

The divine physician had Israel on the operating table for heart surgery, without any anesthesia.

“Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said: 
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matthew 15:7-9)

He summoned the crowd and said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles the man; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.” 

Food and ceremonial laws were external rituals that did not reach the depths of the heart, our “hidden center… the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2563). The indestructible temple of the Holy Spirit is the human heart, the first place that must be cleansed and nourished. 

Deep, authentic conversion is an arduous process requiring painful heart surgery. Far easier is a program of superficial rituals that only cleanses the outside of the cup. Few have the courage to face themselves. 

Then his disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He said in reply, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

Any law or practice that violates the single precept of love of God and love of neighbor “will be uprooted.” 

The Good Shepherd laid down his life to rescue the least lamb fallen into a pit, mangled alongside their blind shepherds in the hollow.

The scribes and Pharisees were to be let alone to respond to grace. As we are one Body in Christ, their heart surgery is our very own.


The Sign of Jonah

Jonah Vomited from the Whale, Third century, Rome, Catacomb of Sts. Marcellinus and Peter.

16th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Matthew 12:38-42 

Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”

What is wrong with asking for a sign? Gideon asked for a sign and received it (Judges 6:17). King Ahaz was invited by the Lord himself to ask for a sign, refused, yet received one against his will (Isaiah 8:11-23). King Hezekiah received a sign from the Lord unasked, to assure him that he would live another fifteen years and that his city would not fall to Assyria (Isaiah 38:5-8).

Before a request is even made, the Lord already knows the conditions of hearts. Gideon’s feeling of uncertainty mixed with the sincere will to obey brought upon him the Lord’s indulgence. As far as Ahaz was concerned, religion was irrelevant to politics; God had no place in his heart. In his case, asking for a sign would at least acknowledge God’s existence and relevance. Hezekiah’s spirituality was barely developed and on the verge of collapsing. Divine mercy took pity on him.

In the case of the scribes and Pharisees, the verbal request for a sign masked a deep-seated envy and hatred of Jesus in the depths of the heart. At best, the motive for seeking a sign was to confirm faith, but that motive was basically missing.

He said to them in reply, “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here. At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.”

The pagan Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba were cut to the heart by the divine wisdom offered by Israel. Unlike Jesus’ contemporaries, their hearts were amenable to divine shaping. The sign-seekers before him were only out to test and accuse him. Others were lukewarm, indifferent, and looking for a show.

Signs from Abraham, Moses, David, and all the prophets and kings recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures prepared the Israelites to identify the true Messiah. But aside from that, persons with hearts open to truth, goodness and beauty could not fail to recognize something “not of this world” in Jesus. Even Gentiles without any experience of the Hebrew tradition recognized “something greater” than anything the world had ever seen (e.g., the Roman centurion, the Samaritan woman, and the Canaanite woman).  One miraculous healing alone transformed a community; the people of the covenant witnessed hundreds.

Recognition of divine truth requires the eye of the heart. Scriptural knowledge is a boon, but not a guarantee of faith. The head without the heart is blind.

Jesus left them with the sign of Jonah, a prefiguration of his death and resurrection, which even the disciples did not fully understand until his mission had been accomplished.


Authentic Personhood

Widow’s Mite: 6th century image

9th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday

Mark 12:38-44

In the course of his teaching Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

The scribes who liked to parade their status lived on the outside, in the smokescreen of public image. In contrast, the widow commended by Jesus acted in accordance with the image of God imprinted on her heart.

And what is the image of God? “All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10). Selfless love and dispossession are at the heart of the Trinity. The extravagant generosity of the widow forgetting herself and giving away her entire livelihood mirrored the divine poverty.

The truth of the heart cannot be detected by eyes and ears. Jesus, with the eyes of the spirit, “saw” the mountain of gold deposited by the widow in contrast with the mites tossed in by the rich. 

The widow beloved by Jesus is a mirror of authentic personhood, for self-divestiture is Trinitarian. Emptiness and fullness are two sides of the same coin stamped with the divine image. Emptied of self, the false boundaries of the ego yield to the mutual indwelling of persons and the fullness of divine love. If the Trinity is truly “all in all” (I Corinthians 15:28), we lose nothing and gain everything in giving ourselves away. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).


The Great Commandments

Mk 12:28-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,”Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, Teacher,” the scribe says to Jesus, who spoke of loving God and loving neighbor.
He was among the representatives sent by the Roman-backed Jewish priestly leaders to discredit Jesus after his symbolic attach on the temple. Mark describes the attempts by the scribes–scholars skilled in religious matters –to trap Jesus in chapters 11 and 12 of his gospel.

But this scribe is different. The familiar words he’s heard so often seem to touch his heart as Jesus speaks them.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s more important than the temple sacrifice and worship you’re working to maintain.

There’s no evidence that the scribe left everything to follow Jesus, but he’s told he’s ‘not far from the kingdom of God.” What became of him, we wonder?

We may not be far from the scribes, though. We lose sight of what’s important too.  We get used to even the holiest things and defend ourselves with questions as they did.

Jesus engaged them, however. Will he not engage us this Lent, stirring our hearts, our souls, our minds, and renewing our strength with his truth?

Let me hear your voice, your unfamiliar voice– I don’t listen to you enough.
Though unseen, you are always with me,
Though unrecognized, you care for me and all the world.
Feed me with the best of wheat and honey from the rock,
As once you led your people out of Egypt,
Lead us to your truth.