Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

Lectionary: 231

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.

When I was a kid my mother would say what every other mother in the neighborhood said, "Just because they're doing it doesn't make it right for you!"

In today's gospel Jesus reminds us that our leaders in church, government, business and society might not deserve our admiration or imitation. We can respect their office but not their behavior. 

His critique of "the scribes and Pharisees" fits our traditional suspicion of authority. Samuel, the last of the Old Testament judges, reluctantly anointed Saul and David as kings over Israel. When the people demanded that he anoint a king to help them resist the Philistines, he gave a long harangue about how much a king would demand of the nation. Beyond taxation, the military draft and forced labor on public projects would be the maintenance of the king's luxurious life style and an expensive royal family. Samuel insisted that YHWH is all the king they needed; he relented only when the Lord himself told him to do so.
When David became king the office of judge disappeared, replaced by the prophets who persistently and often mercilessly criticized the ruler. Nathan made a point of badgering David, and Isaiah pestered Ahab.
So Jesus' criticism of the scribes and Pharisees -- who had no real authority but pretended that they did -- was nothing new. Once the Church had emerged from the shadows of persecution and become a dominant force in the Roman Empire, the Holy Spirit encouraged men and women to critique the discouraging witness of lackluster Christians. They created monasteries, religious orders, societies and fraternities; who did not hesitate to criticize each other. Benedictines vs Franciscans vs Dominicans vs the secular clergy. A good time was had by all! Occasionally these criticisms were taken to heart and real reform occurred.
Eventually, in the western church, that reform movement became an institution in itself, the Reformation, which splintered into a gazillion different quarrelsome churches.
The true reform of the Church searches for communion with all believers, not separation. The Truth can be known only by a unified church; splintered churches see only shards and fragments.
Saint Cyprian of Carthage wrote, "The greater sacrifice to God is our peace and fraternal concord, and a people united in the unity of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit"
Today's "scribes and Pharisees" separate their followers from the body of the Church, from the Body of Christ.  Jesus says, "...do not follow their example."
The ecumenical movement does not promise a unified church within anyone's lifetime, but it searches for that truth which brings us together. We can meet first in mutual respect, admiration and love, then in works of charity, and finally in a common prayer.
It is impossible that Jesus' prophetic prayer, "that all may be one" will not be satisfied. We work with his spirit when we allow his prayer to bring us together.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.