Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"YOU BUILD THE MEMORIALS OF THE PROPHETS."


Homily for October 13th, 2016: Luke 11:47-54.

          In today’s gospel reading we witness the mounting hostility to Jesus of the religious leaders of his people: the Pharisees, who prided themselves on their careful observance of God’s law; and the scribes, the experts in interpreting the law – which for Jesus’ people was, of course, the Ten Commandments. 

          “Woe to you,” Jesus says, “who build the memorials of the prophets whom your fathers killed.” We build memorials to people whom we honor. During their lifetimes, however, Israel’s prophets were not honored. Many were resented or ignored, for reminding people of  God’s demands on them. Others, like Jeremiah, were actively persecuted. Only when the prophets were dead and gone was it safe to start honoring them.

We see something similar in a modern prophet: Dr. Martin Luther King. Widely resented during his lifetime, and the target of hatred so strong that it led to his assassination, today he is honored by a stone monument in Washington, and celebrated on a national holiday. Jesus’ words about how his people treated God’s spokesmen, the prophets – rejecting them in their lifetimes, and erecting memorials to them after they were safely dead -- point to the reason for Jesus’ own death.

At the end of today’s gospel reading the opposition to Jesus becomes open and active. “The scribes and Pharisees began to act with hostility toward him,” Luke writes, “and to interrogate him about many things, for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say.”

This hostility continues today – in the form of gossip. Earlier this month Pope Francis, celebrating Mass for those who guard the Vatican, told them: “You watchmen guard the doors, the windows, so that a bomb does not enter.” However, “there are bombs inside, there are very dangerous bombs inside.” He was speaking, the Pope explained, about gossip, the weeds sown amid the wheat, which destroys and kills. “May the life of us all,” the Pope concluded, “the last page of the life of us all be: he was a good person, he sowed the good seed. And not – it would be very sad – that the last page be: he was wicked, he sowed the bomb of discord.”