February 10, 2015
Tuesday of week 5 in Ordinary Time
(Saint Scholastica, Virgin)
Jesus Makes Tradition Lifegiving
You have given him rule over the works of your hands.
As the creation story continues, two things stand out: fertility and responsibility. And with responsibility comes authority.
God wants life in abundance: ““Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures.” But he also wants order in the universe. We attribute the work of ordering creation to God the Son, the “Word” of God’s intelligibility, “through whom and for whom all things have been created, and in whom all things hold together” (see Colossians 1:15).
This work God has entrusted on earth to humans.
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.” God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him.
God wants humans to co-operate with him in the work of creation through fertility and responsibility. Responsibility necessarily entails the authority to bring about that which we are responsible for.
“Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth... Have dominion over… all the living things that move on the earth.”
God made humans the “stewards of creation.” Humans are in charge. Humans have decision-making authority over the management of the universe. But as “stewards” they must manage everything according to the will of the owner, and to bring about everything he desires.
This can cause problems. It is not always easy to maintain the balance between obedience and responsibility, especially since the “balance” requires giving full value to both.
Paradoxically, those who insist too narrowly on obedience wind up disobeying God by refusing to accept the responsibility of making personal decisions. This was (and is) the sin of the “Pharisees.”
Phariseeism is the corruption of religion that makes law observance replace personal, interactive relationship with God. Pharisees begin by saying that a religious person obeys God’s laws, which is true, and end up believing that obeying God’s laws makes one a religious person—which is the most distorted and destructive falsehood infecting the Church today.
Jesus warned his disciples against it for all time: “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees… Then they understood that he had told them to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:11).
Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus telling the Pharisees that their obedience to written laws was making them disobedient to the living God: “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” For the Pharisees, once God’s will is codified in the words of a law, all human interaction with God’s mind stops. The focus is on the law alone. And Phariseeism allows no interpretation, much less any creative or compassionate application of the law to circumstances or individual needs. Phariseeism is an idolatry that puts the dead letter of the law on the throne of the living God. The idols of the Pharisees are not “silver and gold,” but they are equally “the work of human hands,” because they are freeze-dried formulae, inflexible “traditions” which allow no dialogue:
They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see;
they have ears, but they do not hear, and there is no breath in their mouths.
Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them (Psalm 135:15).
In fact, that is what happened to the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. Jesus said about them that “they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn—and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:13; Mark 8:15).
The Pharisees hated Jesus because he wanted them to accept the responsibility of being human, of being co-operators with God, and to enter into dialogue with the living God. They were afraid to do that. Like their ancestors who said to Moses when he went up the mountain to receive the Law, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die” (Exodus 20:19), the Pharisees of every age refuse to encounter God face to face. They deal with him only through his written laws, and never ask him for light to see what their deep purpose is or how to apply them to the changing circumstances of human life.
Jesus said, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). And Paul echoed him: “We speak as... ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2Corinthians 2: 17).
The letter not only kills; it changes those it has killed into the living dead who try in turn to kill everyone who lives by the Spirit.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. You do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them… You cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:13).
Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel:
49… I do not want a Church… caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).
To feed is to nourish life—of body and soul. Those who take seriously their responsibility as “stewards of creation” (Eucharistic Prayer IV) and “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1Peter 4:10) look always to the goal, the purpose, the intent of God’s laws and of the rules of the Church, knowing it is always to give life, excite love, expand faith, encourage hope, so that all may “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). They accept the responsibility, and claim the right—because it is an obligation—to interpret and adapt the rules, applying them to concrete circumstances and obeying them in a way that achieves their true and ultimate goal. Those with authority in the Church, if they are not Pharisees, follow and enforce all rules in a way guided by the great “pastoral commandment” Jesus gave to Peter: “If you love me, feed my sheep” (John 21:15).
Authentic stewardship is to “serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received” in a way that “promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (1Peter 4:10; Ephesians 4:16).
This stewardship extends to the whole of creation. It calls us to change cultures, transform society, and take responsibility for “all the living things that move on the earth.”
Pope Francis again:
183… An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics”, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.” All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world.
Do I choose to let Jesus free me from the paralysis of frozen tradition and empower me to “renew the face of the earth”?
Pray all day: “Lord, let me hear your voice.”
Practice: In everything you do, especially in obedience to rules, respice finem, “look to the end.” Obey with authority.
Discuss: Where do you see Phariseeism in the observance and enforcement of rules today?