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Prophesies of Woe [You sad, bro?]

August 31, 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014: Twenty-first Monday in Ordinary Time. 

2 Thessalonians 1: 1-5, 11-12.  May the name of our Lord Jesus be glorified in you and you in him.

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


Gospel Reflection:

Praised be Jesus Christ! For evermore!

Once again, we hear Jesus begin 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 yesterday, we heard Simon bar-Jonah step forward and pronounce, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt 16:16).  The Lord recognized that this was the hour that he would be revealed by his Father, and set the rock of his foundation – Peter.  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, it seems, 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.’

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.

Instead of splitting legalistic hairs, and suffering being called out to the point of conspiring to plot the death of the Lord, the Pharisees should of listened – with their hearts – and heard the prophesies of the past echoing in these words; in the words of Isaiah, of Ezekiel, and of Habakkuk.

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, let us be reminded we have recourse to the Lord, for us all, in our needs, petitions, and woes.




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