Monday of the 20th Week in Ordinary time
2 Thes 1:1-5,11-12; Ps 96; Mt 23:12-22
Some time ago, a cat wandered into a monastery and began bothering the monks at prayer. The abbot decided that the cat should be tied up before their prayers everyday and let loose after. This went on daily for many years until the abbot died. The monks continued tying the cat up until the cat also died. The younger monks were unsure of what to do. Then one of them decided to go to the market to get a new cat so that they could tie a cat up before prayers that day.
What does this story remind us of? Something we’ve heard before – actions need to be driven by purpose and what’s truly important. Anything else would lead to empty rituals like that of the younger monks.
Actually, empty ritual may be better than what went on in gospel. The Lord continued to speak of the woes to scribes and pharisees. At the heart of the matter lies the hypocrisy of these religious leaders. What’s hypocrisy? To me, it means one thing and mean something else. To not walk the talk, not putting one’s money where one’s mouth is, to not practice what one preaches. While that’s bad in itself, it’s worse to consider the deeper implications of the hypocrisy of the scribes and pharisees.
Why do people like the pharisees act hypocritically? I suppose it’s because they forgot purpose of who they are and what they’re supposed to do. They probably forgot what’s really important in their lives as religious leaders (remember last week?). And I think they take that one step further. Not only did they forget the importance of God, they even placed themselves at the centre of things, to make themselves most important of all. They did things based on outward appearances and not for a greater purpose.
The example of the oath-taking is very telling. Swearing of oaths for the Jews was discouraged but if they had to do so, the Jews since Moses’ time were told to make these oaths at the altar, to sanctify these oaths and to make sure they were not broken. The altar of God sanctifies all that are brought upon it. The scribes and pharisees of the time perverted this when they got greedy and got people to swear on the gold that they would bring to the altar instead. More gold that was brought to the altar would mean more gold that they could keep to enrich themselves. The intent of sanctifying the oaths was lost to the greed and selfishness of these so-called religious leaders that Jesus was condeming.
This gives us good lessons for us too. We need to go beyond our own selfishness and self-importance. We need to connect with our deeper purposes and with what is truly important in our lives. We each have our own roles and things that we are called to do. As students, we study and concentrate on growing in wisdom and character. As teachers, we should focus on guide youth in their development. As parents, we focus on building strong, faith-filled families. If our selfishness gets in the way, we get distracted and run the risk of going the way of the scribes and pharisees. The monks provide a good reminder too – to keep our actions purposeful and recognise why we do things we do. Keeping the Lord at the centre of our lives allows us to lead these purposeful lives, and to concentrate on living true to our call and vocation.
St Paul’s epistle to the Thessalonians shows one way of living well with faith and steadfastness under pressure.They showed that they had purity of purpose in living the good life from God and that’s what allowed them to go beyond the self. They were called to do just that and were able keep themselves focused on God in spite of persecution. That’s what it means to know what’s important and to truly walk the talk.
So we need to continually ask this question in our lives of faith: Do we walk the talk and practice what we peach?
I found the concluding prayer from Lauds this morning very helpful in bringing all these thoughts together and it seems very apt to end this sharing with it:
Lord, may everything we do begin with your inspiration and continue with your saving help. Let our work always find its origin in you and through you reach completion. Amen.