23rd Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
One of the standards ways of interpreting our Gospel scene is to contrast the rigid, law-abiding Pharisees with the humane and merciful Jesus. The Pharisees are happy to see a man with a withered hand suffer if it means following the Law of the Sabbath. While Jesus is keen on showing us that mercy always triumphs over the Law when needs must. Nothing particularly wrong with that interpretation. But it doesn't tell us much about why the Pharisees are spying on Jesus. It doesn't tell us what motivates them to seek his destruction. For example, is it pride that compels them? Do they see Jesus as a threat to their self-worth? Or maybe it's wrath. They're angry with him for presuming to do what they claim only they can do. Of course, there could be several different motivations. But if I had to pick one, I'd pick the capital sin of envy. Aquinas teaches us that envy is the sorrow I feel about another person's gift when I falsely believe that that gift has been taken from or withheld from me. The Pharisees and scribes see Jesus' gift of healing and they are envious b/c they falsely believe that that gift should be theirs.
Why would they believe that they should possess this gift of healing? They are religious leaders. Spiritual guides. They know Scripture. They are placed closer to God in virtue of their holiness, their righteousness under the Law. They wield popular political influence. So, they should be the ones healing withered hands not this jump-up prophet from some podunk backwoods town! But here's the problem with envy: you and I have no right to the gifts we receive. God freely gives His gifts and we freely receive them. So, the Devil wins when I spend my time envying your gifts rather than cultivating my own. The Devil also wins when I spend my time following you around trying to catch you using your gifts at the wrong time or for the good of the wrong person. So while my gifts are being destroyed through neglect, you're using yours for the greater glory of God! What's left for me but to be enraged? If I would follow Christ, I would cease coveting your gifts and give thanks to God for my own, asking Him for the strength and perseverance to cultivate what He has already given me. As is always the case, gratitude to the Father prevents a multitude of sins.
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