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August 27, 2012: Monday, Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

September 29, 2012

Matthew 23: 13-22.  Woe to you, blind guides.

Reflection:

Today, we celebrate the Memorial of Saint Monica, the long suffering mother of that rascal-turned-Bishop-and-Doctor-of-the-Church – St. Augustine. She never faltered in her belief in the power of prayer and grace to bring about true conversion of heart.  And so it did. 

Today we hear Jesus directing a complicated series of seven woes against the Scribes and Pharisees – today being the first three. Here, the charge is made that their authority is exercised in such a way that it is an obstacle to entrance into heaven.  Remember Sunday, we heard Simon Peter step forward, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6: 69).  This first woe is a metaphor of the keys of that kingdom given to Peter.  The Pharisees reject the authority of Jesus, and therefore are warned that they will find the kingdom closed.  How often do we find our own lawmakers who stand behind the letter of the law, but are unable or unwilling to grasp the intent?  Who are more interested in their phylacteries and tassels to emphasize their own self-importance, than to serve the common good?  We have only to turn on the 6 o’clock news.

In the second woe, Jesus mocks their missionary zeal.  In the first century, the Pharisees conducted a vigorous campaign with the Gentiles.  These proselytes, who submitted to circumcision and all other requirements under the law, were often more zealous than those missionaries. This usually resulted in an increase in the persecution of Jewish Christians, whom they saw as real renegades.  Compare this to the persecution and sometimes arrest of our Christian brothers and sisters who stand in opposition – legally – against immoral laws, such as abortion and euthanasia.  Even Augustine reminds us that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’

an unjust law is no law at all. – Saint Augustine

Finally, in the third woe, Jesus tells them that their priorities are reversed; and indeed that by using the law to support arguments that are specious – apparently good but lacking in merit and truth – the so-called blind guides mislead and misrepresent the intent of making an oath.  Even then, loopholes were found in order to secure an unfair advantage.

But take heart.  The Pharisees see Jesus as a rebel, an anarchist; a challenge to their place on the seat of Moses.  They forgot his explanation at the Sermon on the Mount, in Chapter 5, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17-18).  As this Gospel rails against the injustice of the system, we have only to turn to Saint Paul’s encouragement to find intercession that, ‘God bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith.’  Armed with faith such as the early, persecuted Christians had, and such as Saint Monica had, let us remember today’s Memorial and be reminded we have recourse to the Lord’s own Mother, Mary, Mother for us all, in our needs and petitions.

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