The Good News for the Day, August 23, 2033
Tuesday of the 21st Week of Ordinary Time (426)
Jesus speaks “It’s a judgment on you, educated people and religious leaders—Scribes and Pharisees—you phony pretenders!
You Miss Important Things
You pay so much attention to little things— little details of food and the like—but you have neglected what is more important from tradition: common sense judgments, compassion, and a trusting faith. These things you should have worked at, without neglecting everything else.
Blind guides, who pick a bug out of food, but then swallow a whole camel!
You Scrub Outsides
It’s a judgment on you, educated and religious leaders—Pharisees—you phonies! You scrub hard to clean the outside of your cup and plate, but inside—inside, the dishes are full of ill-gotten goods is, hoarded by greed and egotistic superiority.
Blind Pharisees, clean the inside of a cup first, so that the outside can get clean, too.” (Matthew 23)
Reflections of the Words of Jesus
Yet how easy it is for all of us to emphasize the outside. It seems clear Jesus is talking about all the concerns we have for the details of religion. In my Catholic childhood I remember worrying about swallowing the toothpaste that would break the fast before communion – silly, it looks silly now.
Your concern and mine is really the positive – Jesus says to emphasize three things that we tend to neglect – what I have translated as “common sense judgment (crisis),” “compassion (almsgiving)” and “trusting faith (faith).”
These three things are not the daily fare of love and forgiveness, but exercises and behaviors that are more explicit.
- The first of these refers to using thoughtfulness in our judgments when we interact with the world around us – to avoid mere mechanical obedience to our past, to rules, and to social pressure. Reflect more often Jesus suggests so that you do not fret over little things on what is more, and most, important.
- How common it is for us not to reflect – to keep moving forward on autopilot. Our lives run on with the habits that we have always had and were productive in the past. Today we are reluctant to stop and think, you and I. Sometimes it is spiritual laziness. Other times, it is distractions. And then it is just wanting to get the job done.
- The second is compassion – by this it means not just feelings, but feelings that produce actions, and the love that is productive, feelings that result in helping another person. The Greek word gives us the word “alms,” and that is the perfect image – helping someone financially because they need it. It does not need to be financial help – but it is help that arises from our gut-feeling.
- The kindness and compassion that Jesus speaks of arises because our heart notices something – a need. Sometimes it is the kind of thing that reflexively brings tears to our eyes. Other times it is something we suddenly notice – how someone is hurting. Instinctively, a particular situation cries out to us and we hear the cry in our very soul.
- The third focus is faith. Faith in Scripture, of course, is not the same thing that so many of us think of when we think of faith. Faith is always evidenced (see Hebrews 11). Faith is personal and transactional; faith is a bond involving soul to soul and heart to heart; faith is rightness and truth, the building up of one another by the strength that comes from mutual love and mutual dependency.
- Faith is a successful fulfillment in Scripture – a change from helplessness to achievement, from fear to accomplishment, and from a kind of emptiness to true living. Faith restores us not simply to hold us. He restores us to the community.
These qualities – the Good News tells you and me – reveal and create integrity and help avoid hypocrisy. The whole point of which Jesus has been speaking now is been a transition from depending on wealth, depending on external support, and depending on our own ego. We transform into a mutual dependency, a discovery that true wealth results from loving one another. That is our security, our hope, and our integrity.
The Importance of the Inside
Each of us is working our lives towards happiness, peace, and the joy of loving and being loved. It is by listening to these words of Jesus that we get there. The danger of hypocrisy as as threatening as any disease our body can confront. Awareness of our spirit, repentance when we discover hypocrisy, and practices of truth stop hypocrisy and enable happiness