Art by the fiery and thundering Brian Jocks.
“The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”
I first encountered Christianity at the age of nineteen. I was enthusiastic about the gospel, and wanted to learn. I searched for voices to teach me this Way. I did not know enough to know the difference between the voice of authority and the voices of the scribes. What is heard in Jesus’ words that is so different from the words of the scribes? I knew I was supposed to judge people by their actions and not just by their words. I knew I was commanded to “be perfect, as He is perfect.” And I knew that the consequences of listening to the wrong voices could affect my eternity. In hindsight, I was scared. Maybe even terrified.
When we are fresh and enthusiastic about the faith, it is easy to mistake the scribes for the voice of authority. I did what most do. I started with simple things, like, “What books are everyone recommending? Who is everyone excited to hear at conferences and in interviews? Who are the latest and greatest pastors, where the people are flocking to hear the Word of God?”
I have come to believe that this how the enemy of our souls confused me.
“He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” 1 Kings 19:11-13
The authentic voice of God is silence. And in imitation of Him, the voices of his disciples are quiet, as well. They are the prophets of old who had to run from the crowds to save their lives. They are the voice of the one crying in the desert. They are the voices that the poor and ignored follow. They are a ratty band of dirty fishermen, poor women, the formerly demon possessed, the unclean, the leper, the tax collector who is “worse than the sinner.”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10
Solomon says that there is nothing new under the sun. Today’s scribes are as bold as the scribes of Jesus’ day. They are on the shelves of the local Christian bookstores. They pastor megachurches. Their Twitter accounts are busy and well-read. They use their own holiness as an example of how we ought to live our lives. And as we have seen in the news, they are often also whitewashed sepulchres, hiding their sexual struggles while abusing the ones most in need of protection.
I saw beautiful images of glorious saints of old, of heroes of the faith, and I forgot that the magisterium and popular speakers of their day mocked them, barred them from communion and from speaking, and looked on as frenzied locals burned them at the stake.
I missed that being widely read and recommended is not the primary sign of faithfulness.
I wish I had asked myself: Whose book is dusty on the back shelf, but somehow a favorite among a small rag-tag population? Who are today’s unclean, the ones it is still acceptable to make jokes about, to mock their ways, to boldly say with confidence that they are going to hell for their sins? Even more, who is befriending them? Whose very lives are in danger for giving them shelter and accompanying them on their journey through life? Who is criticized, mocked, and labeled a dangerous heretic for responding to the cry “sinner” with “he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
The band of Jesus’ followers pursue perfection in love and charity, not in dress, not in the perfect devotional times, not in reading the all the popular books, not in attending all the right conferences and retreats. Their fruits are in their genuine kindness to today’s lepers and tax collectors. Like the saints of old, they may even be controversial, and the scribes may warn against reading their words.
The promise of the Gospel is that we are freed from our chains. Free to love generously, without fear. We are free to trust in the boundless mercy of our God, who loves us as we love others, who forgives us as we forgive others.
I’m raising my hand as one of the many who had to learn the hard way. It wasn’t Jesus that betrayed me. It was his false prophets. Nevertheless, I still bear the weight of my own sin in proclaiming the message of the scribes instead of the message of Hope. This week’s gospel is a good reminder to recall the beatitudes when I consider whose voices are authoritative.
Eve Maria Alexandra is the wife and mother of seven. She writes among the cornfields and is a recovering constant veil and denim jumper wearer. She is a vinyl record addict and recently returned from a pilgrimage overseas. She is also sometimes known as Bitch Pilgrim.