10 March 2009. Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent
Isaiah 1, 10-20; Psalm 50; Matthew 23, 1-12
There are two types of people in the Gospel. The audience are Jesus’ disciples and the crowd. Jesus criticizes two groups of people, the Pharisees and the scribes. Not all Pharisees are scribes; and not all scribes are Pharisees. Let me put it this way: Pharisees are those who ate communally and they strictly observed the law. The scribes, on the other hand, are religious intellectuals who interpreted the Old Testament and applied these interpretations to daily living. Jesus see that both the scribes and the Pharisees like to sit on the “chair of Moses” which is the seat of honor in the synagogue. The teacher in the synagogue preaches from the chair of Moses. Thus Jesus said that the scribes and the Pharisees are those who love honorific titles, self-display, popularity and attention. They like to be called “Rabbi” or “Master” or “Father”. They enjoyed sitting on places of honor in religious and social gatherings. Their pretensions do not escape the eyes of Jesus. And therefore, the Gospel urges all readers, to hear what the scribes and the Pharisees preach but they are not obliged to follow what they do.
The lesson then is for us to be consistent with what we say. To walk our talk. To practice what we preach. Many of us know matters of our faith substantially enough that we know what is proper, moral and ethical behavior. We know that an informed decision affects not just our lives but the life of the community. And thus conversely, when we make drastic decisions, we contribute to consequences that we later on regret. We already know that even our slightest act as cutting off trees, contribute to environmental damage. In the first reading, despite God’s warning to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, they did not heed His words. And thus they perish.
If we read carefully the first reading, God’s call is consoling. Even if our sins are scarlet, we can still become white and pure as snow. We are always given a chance (or several chances) to reform our lives and make ourselves clean. We are to be morally upright and learn to do good: we have to put our ‘misdeeds and cease to do evil’. We are to check our goals and values in our lives: do we value justice and aim to defend the powerless? Do we correct and ask for forgiveness to those whom we have wronged? Does our lifestyle show the things we value? The readings to me is consoling, because God acknowledges that it is difficult for us to make a 360-degree change in an instant. How many of us know what we do not like about ourselves, but despite our millions of resolutions, we find ourselves still doing what we hate? We are not wanting in our willingness to change. But maybe we lack in something else: a factor that makes change difficult to happen. In this light, we have to forgive ourselves too. When we prod ourselves to change, we have to do it gently. There is a kind of prodding that is violent, that does not respect process.
I believe what makes people holy is not that they became perfect as angels on earth. But that they have struggled and tried to be one. Little by little. Incrementally. When they fail, they ask God and one another forgiveness. They do not just give up and say, “well, I am like this, so I will remain like this.” By believing that we cannot change, we make God a liar: He believes we can grow and develop into someone “made in His image and likeness”. It is not just accidentally that in every mass, we admit and confess to one another and to God that we have sinned through our own faults. And we are continually forgiven in the Penitential rite. And before communion, we ask the Lord to make us worthy to receive Him. And by receiving Christ in communion, we affirm our belief that only with the grace of God can we become better people — and thus, worthy to preach the Good News to others. The greatest factor that makes and compliments our efforts to reform, is God alone. He makes change possible.