FR. BEN’S MONDAY HOMILY OF 21ST WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME CYCLE I
THEME: THE 7 WOES OF THE SCRIBES & PHARISEES!
BY: Ben Agbo (Rev Fr)
HOMILY: * 1 Thess 1 : 1 – 10, Matt 23 : 13 – 22.
The 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel is one of the harshest parts of the scripture and one of the strongest rebukes from our Lord against any group of people. A scripture scholar, A T Robertson called it ‘the rolling thunderstorms of judgment’ against the Scribes and Pharisees.
The ‘Scribes’ were the religious intellectuals of that time while the ‘Pharisees’ were the religious fanatics of Jesus’ time. Religious intellectuals read a lot, philosophize and theologize a lot and try to codify God in human thought categories as if they have understood everything about him. St Thomas Aquinas, the angelic doctor of the Church had an interesting experience at the evening of his life that I consider pedagogical here. Having written a lot of stuff on the Eucharist, he went into a trance one day while meditating at mass and had such a humbling revelation that made him never write again until he died because he discovered that God was much greater than anything he ever thought or imagined about him.
Religious fanatics pretend to be holy and parade themselves in white turbans / soutanes with people hailing them as ‘Reverends’ but their inner lives were immoral and hypocritical. They were never truly and really holy but only perfected in the art of making people think they are holy. They are religious legalists blinded and preoccupied with the observance of the minutest details of religious rules and regulations but fail to see the main essence of religion which is faith, hope and love. St Paul makes it clear in today’s 1st reading that the gospel of Christ came to us in power of the Holy Spirit not in mere grandiloquence. He commends the Thessalonians for their work of faith, labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Of all religious schools of thought that operated during the time of Christ, like the Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Herodians, Essences, etc, the first two above were the worst because they claimed to be the best. ‘The corruption of the best’, people say, ‘is the worst evil’. Jesus accused the Scribes and Pharisees of the following 7 evil practices;
1. Extreme dogmatism; They shut the kingdom of God against men ( through their excess emphasis on rules and sanctions), neither entering themselves nor allowing those who would to go in.
2. Scandal; They make serious efforts to convert people only to end up corrupting and scandalizing them.
3. Materialism; They compromise spiritual standards by swearing by the gold in the temple (in order to make money through such ceremonies) and not minding the sacredness of the altar itself.
4. Exploitation; They pay tithes of different kinds but neglect the weightier matters like justice, mercy and good faith.
5. Hypocrisy; They are like whitewashed tombs who look holy but are inwardly unclean.
6. Externalism; They clean the outside of the cup while the inside is full of iniquity.
7. Persecution of prophets; They shed the blood of the innocent and like their forefathers murder the prophets.
Friends, let us examine ourselves critically today: Is there any mark of Pharisaic hypocrisy in our attitude towards our religion or the vocation we have chosen in life? According to Vima Dasan, ‘Of all things that stink in the human nostrils, hypocrisy is the worst’. Fr Emma Onuh of blessed memory put it succinctly thus: ‘There is within each of us a Pharisee, a Pagan, a Sinner, a Saint, name it. Being good or bad largely depends on which trait we allow to dominate at any given time. That which compels us never to accept other truths is the Pharisee in us.
That which makes us think that God can be accessed through stones, streams and elemental beings, is the Pagan in us. That which prevents us from recognizing the will of God for us and from doing good, is the sinner in us. That which compels us to receive the Word of God and to abide in it, is the Saint in us’. Many of our present day pastors, if care is not taken, are gradually beginning to fit into this picture of the Scribes and Pharisees. I heard, for example, of a Parish where the priest before preaching a burial homily counts the number of vehicles that came to Church and announces the amount of money that each will contribute for mass stipend for the repose of the deceased. Is that not complete hypocrisy? Today, many who consider the Eucharist very precious have refused to receive it because it is given in the hand due to the Pandemic. Is that not exactly what the Pharisees did, worrying about the outside of the cup rather than the inside?
May God save his Church from all forms of hypocrisy and may God bless you today!