Readings: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; I Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21
You hypocrites! Your frauds! You blind guides! Blind fools! You brood of vipers! You can hear that Jesus is upset. In today’s Gospel we hear only one name, hypocrites. The rest of the names Jesus calls the Pharisees comes a little further on. Read ahead in your own Bible if you don’t want to miss the whole action.
We are coming to the end of the Church’s year within the next month or so, so we’re also approaching the end of St. Matthews’s Gospel. With today’s reading we’ve reached the last week of Jesus’ life. Palm Sunday was described in the previous chapter and the pressure is on Jesus from the religious leaders of his day. His end is near.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Herodians have all joined forces to get rid of him.; but they still have to be careful how to handle this because the crowds love Jesus. So they plot to show Jesus up in front of the people. They flatter him falsely to trap him and make him lose face in front of his followers. Their attempts are clumsy and backfire–they are , indeed, hypocrites without integrity or morals, false leaders through and through.
Sadly, human nature being what it is, this is not the case only in Jesus’ day but has been true of every century of our Church’s history. History repeats itself. On the other hand, just as there was a Joseph of Arimethea and a Nicodemus in Jesus’ day, there will always be genuine religious leaders and saints in the Church in each generation. But we still have with us today the hypocrites and frauds, the frauds, the brood of vipers, just as in Jesus’ day. People are so easily scandalized by false priests and selfish religious, by power-hungry bishops and cardinals. Every person has been given free-will by God and we can seek good or choose evil. We are, all of us, sinners, but we also believe that God shows mercy and great compassion to all who turn to him with sorrow and love. Those to whom more is forgiven, love so much the more, Jesus told us. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners… It is the sick who need a physician… I seek the lost sheep…
We must never doubt those words of Jesus; he means them! Even now, just a few days before he is condemned to death, he is still reaching out to wake up the hard of heart among the religious leaders of his people. But they will not heed. The Psalmist warns us, If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. What does this say about any of us when we hear what Jesus called the priests and religious of his day? Dare we sit back and feel complacent? Am I better than those Pharisees ands Sadducees?
We know that whatever good is within us is all from God’s grace and we must give to God what belongs to God: his grace, his providence, his wisdom guiding our lives, his strength. We have but to ask him for true holiness since it is not in our power to be holy but by the power of Christ present to us that we could be holy. We must but ask him. I have seen too many others go off the right path for me to feel complacent about myself–it is too easy to go astray. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Give joyfully to God what belongs to God.