27 August 2007

Blind Fools! Hypocrites!

St. Monica: 1 Thes 1.1-5, 8-10 and Matthew 23.13-22
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Listen here!

Woe to you, Pharisees and scribes! Hypocrites! Blind guides! Fools! Ah yes, Jesus is on a tear. He targets those most directly responsible for access to the Divine, painting them as obstacles, obstructions, as perverse things-in-the-way, and then he loudly and squarely accuses them of turning hard-won converts into children of Gehanna! So, not only are the Pharisees and scribes preventing the children of the Father from entering the kingdom—avarice fogging their obedience—but when they do manage to make converts, they turn these men and women, by their corrupt teaching and worse example, into heirs of the burning garbage heap, sons and daughters of refuse and waste. Having locked the kingdom against themselves, those who sit on the chair of Moses lock the kingdom against all those trying to enter, packing on their backs the Law, traditional interpretation of the Law, editions to the Law, interpretations of the editions, editions of the editions, intepretations of the interpretations, and, finally, practical distinctions so fine, so subtle that they push God’s people to edge of blasphemy and idolatry. And so Jesus cries to the crowd and his disciples: Woe to you, Pharisees and scribes! Hypocrites! Blind guides! Fools!

Could we ask for a starker contrast to this scene than the one we read about in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians? Here Paul gives thanks to God for the “work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope” of those chosen to lead the church in Thessalonia. Paul notes that though the gospel came to this thriving church through apostolic preaching and work, it also arrived “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” In other words, the gospel arrived as testimony in human word and deed, full and bright; AND the gospel arrived as the passionate love of God, the Holy Spirit snatching up cold-hard hearts, whacking open locked minds, and punting comfortable tushies up and down the beaches of the Aegean Sea!

And what difference does any of this make in how the contrasting modes of spiritual leadership handle their responsibility to mediate the divine to the people in their charge? Here’s the difference between the Temple in Jerusalem and the Church in Thessalonia: Paul writes, “In every place your faith in God has gone forth…” Gone out. Away from. Branched upward. Their faith is diffusing, scattering, circulating; it is spreading like seed, like good news, like wealth. The faith of those who sit on the chair of Moses is hog-tied, strung-up, caged in craft and guile; what true faith they have is hoarded like gold, like food in famine, like water in a desert so meagerly shared that even those who possess see little benefit from having it. Therefore, they are blind guides leading blind tourists. Hypocrites teaching the accumulated minutiae of legal precedent—footnotes to footnotes, cross references to more minutiae, bibliographical trivia, citations and indices—all piled-high trivia labeled “Faith.”

What are we to do? Obviously, we’re not to look the scribes and Pharisees for spiritual leadership! And we are to watch carefully our own legalistic tendencies—so easy and neat, aren’t they? So simple, uncomplicated and clean. I think Paul hits the right note on our jobs in the spirit of Love: “…to serve the living and true God and to await His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus…” To serve and to wait. To serve only is busy work done to stay busy. To wait only is a lethal quietism, a posion against lived-charity. Our ministry is service and waiting. More precisely, our service is service to God insofar as we do it while waiting on the coming of His Son, Christ Jesus. And it is the waiting, the anticipation of his coming again that pushes us to witness our lived-faith and to serve the least of His.

You can be a lock or a key. Show your joy in Christ: unlock the Kingdom!

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