Homily for Oct. 12th, 2016: Luke 11: 42-46
“Woe to you Pharisees!” Jesus says in today’s gospel. Who are these people about whom we hear so much in the gospels, most of it negative? Their name means “the separated ones.” They looked down on their fellow Jews who paid little attention to all the details of the Jewish law.
There is an example of this superior attitude in John’s gospel. The Pharisees and chief priests ask the
Temple guards in why they have not arrested Jesus. “No
one ever spoke like that before,” the guards reply. “Do not tell us you have
been taken in!” the Pharisees respond. “You don’t see any of the Sanhedrin
believing in him, do you? Or the Pharisees?” Then comes the condescending
sentence:” Only this lot, that knows nothing about the law – and they are lost
anyway!” (John 7:45-49). Jerusalem
Jesus never condemns the Pharisees’ meticulous efforts to keep God’s’ law. What he criticizes is their legalistic spirit. “You [Pharisees] pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. These you should have done,” Jesus says, affirming the payment of tithes on even the tiniest things, “without overlooking the others”: judgment and the love of God.
Pope Francis spoke similarly in the lengthy interview he gave shortly after his election, and published all over the world in late September, 2013. “The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things,” he said. And he gave this example: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. … The teaching of the Church is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” People immediately assumed that the Pope was changing Church teaching. Yet within days he told a group of gynecologists: “Every unborn child, condemned unjustly to being aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, the face of the Lord.” You can’t get more specific than that.
What is the bottom line? The laws of God and the Church are important. Observing them is the key to happiness. Even more important, however, are help and mercy for those who fail in this – and that is all of us. Asked at the beginning of the interview, “Who is Jorge Bergolio” (the Pope’s original name), he responded: “I am a sinner. This is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” In saying those words, the Pope spoke for all of us, without exception.