Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
As we wait for Tropical Storm Isaac to become Hurricane Isaac and make landfall, we read this morning about another storm, an ancient storm, Hurricane Jesus, who plows through the arrogance and hypocrisy of an even older religious mindset. With a storm surge rating a Category Five, Jesus doesn't mince his words; he hits the Pharisees right in the face with all he's got. Three times he uses the phrase “woe to you,” a formula of judgment and condemnation. Three times he bitterly accuses the Pharisees of blindness and hypocrisy, revealing their love of power and prestige. Three times he calls them out for the sin of abandoning their people to the false idol of greed. In a devastating accusation, Jesus says, “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.” In other words, he accuses the Pharisees of abandoning God's people—one by one—to the burning landfill of spiritual ruin. This is not our Sunday School Jesus. This is Hurricane Jesus set to make landfall, full force, right up the Pharisee's noses! Their most damaging spiritual fault? They are not worthy of their call from God.
As men charged with leading God's people to righteousness through the Law, the scribes and Pharisees are set aside by God to provide instruction, direction, spiritual leadership. Their job is to help those who will to enter a covenant-relationship with God, give access to His wisdom and love. Instead, Jesus says, “You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.” Not only do they themselves refuse to enter the Kingdom, they prevent others from doing so as well. This is a failure in leadership, and more so a disastrous failure to be worthy of their calling from God. With their hearts set to love the power, riches, and celebrity that comes with their calling, the scribes and Pharisees become “blind guides” to a population of blind seekers. Lest we spend too much time and energy sneering at their many failures and forget our own, remember: we are no less vulnerable to this same failing, no less prone to holding onto our access to the Father through Christ, and becoming self-appointed Gatekeepers of the Kingdom rather than Missionaries of the Good News.
The scribes and Pharisees are unworthy of their divine calling b/c they have chosen to use the authority of their vocation as a tool to exalt themselves. Rather than exhaust themselves in making sure that every living soul in their charge knows and understands the Law as a means of growing in righteousness, they use the Law to set up more obstacles, higher hurdles, deeper moats. We too are guilty of this when choose to see the Church as a social club with strict membership rules; or as an exclusive retail boutique serving privileged clientele; or as a remnant of the last remaining faithful who must jealously protect God's precious gifts from those we find undesirable. Woe to us if we fail to recognize and give thanks for the inexhaustible gifts of our loving God. Woe to us if we set up social, political, cultural, racial obstacles to those gifts. Woe to us if we preach the Good News but dwell in the hypocrisy. Paul urges us to live lives worthy of our divine calling; to live the Gospel life with grace, reckless abandon; always throwing ourselves on the mercy of God, and forever depending entirely on His never-ending abundance. When we share His Good News without hesitation or worry, we offer Him thanks. Generosity multiplies generosity. Welcome and be welcomed.
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