17 January 2024

Don't be a tool

St. Anthony, Abbot

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Our translation says that the Pharisees “watch Jesus closely.” Other translations say it better: they “spy on him.” In order to spy, one must watch. But not all watching is spying. Spying implies skulking for nefarious reasons. The Pharisees were colluding with the Herodians – supporters of the Roman puppet king – to put Jesus to death. More is at stake here than one man's withered hand. This gospel scene is about the force of the Law; the need for mercy; the realities of divine healing; and – most of all – the depths to which some will fall in the acquisition and maintenance of political power. Jesus' ministry is an existential threat to the power and popularity of the Pharisees and the stability of Herod's rule. At stake is the whole structure of a volatile state consumed by rivalries, betrayals, and the potential for violent revolution. So, the Pharisees spy on Jesus. They need him silenced. They need him dead. To achieve this goal, the Pharisees set aside the truth. They turn away from the Law. They lie, cheat, and set traps. All in pursuit of power. Jesus counters their plot with divine healing and mercy.

The Pharisees believe they are doing what's necessary to keep their people and themselves safe. Jesus' ministry is a radical reinterpretation of the Law. Jesus calls it the “fulfillment of the Law.” But to the power brokers of the day, his apparent violations of the Law are dangerous sparks aimed at an open powder keg. Their machinations seem justified b/c they are motivated by a desire for peace and stability. Getting Jesus out of the way – by whatever means necessary – is a Good. What the man's healing shows them – and us – is that lies cannot create truth. Cheating cannot create justice. That compromise, confusion, and political calculation cannot give us peace. And finally, that whatever is broken, sick, cast out, and impoverished can be made whole by the Word of God alone. The Pharisees believe they can control the world by using the tools of the world. But the world makes them its tool. In the end, God reveals who the Master Craftsman really is, using all of them to free us from sin and death. Keep your hearts and minds squarely focused on Christ – his truth, goodness, and beauty. Leave the tool-using and spying to the Pharisees. Nothing created can bring us peace.

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