2nd Week of Lent, Tuesday, Mar 2
Isaiah 1:10, 16-20 / Matthew
Jesus rebukes the Pharisees; "They widen their phylacteries. "
Deuteronomy 6:4-6, 8 reads: "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!Therefore, you shall love the LORD, our God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead." In obedience to this command, Jews wore tiny leather boxes, called phylacteries, or tefillin, which held tiny scrolls. The boxes were strapped to the left arm (signifying subjugation of the heart to GG) and on the forehead (signifying subjugation of the mind to God). Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for making these leather boxes bigger to call attention to their religious piety, rather than to the commandments.
How much "show" is in our religious observance? "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them." Mt 6:1
When we know our faith and practice our religious duties and observances – when we go to Mass and the sacraments and practice penance during Lent – are we good Christians? Only if our heart is in what we do. If we act as we believe and do what we say. If our faith affects our everyday living and our relations with our neighbour. If we build up the kingdom of God. Otherwise our faith is hypocritical.
The recent scandals in the Church involving the clergy had certainly tarnished the dignity of the priesthood and left it in tatters. Where once the priesthood was a symbol of moral and spiritual authority, now a long dark shadow is cast over it as the Church struggles to uphold the necessity of the clergy and its sacramental ministry. Yet the scandals also point out to the lurking danger of succumbing to the abuse of authority and giving in to ulterior motives and vested interests. But it must also be said that there is nothing new under the sun, and what had happened is a recurrence of what had already happened in the past, although in different forms. When religious and spiritual leaders abuse their authority, religion will be seen as ugly, and subsequently the scandals will be many. Even in the gospel, Jesus would point out this danger as He pointed out the how the scribes and Pharisees leaned toward getting attention and status at the expense of the faith of the people. Yet as the Church and as the people of God, we need to pray for our religious leaders, i.e. the Pope, bishops and priests, that they will always be aware of their divine calling and to serve God and His people and not to serve themselves. Yes the clergy has to really take heed of the Word of the Lord in the 1st reading: Wash, make yourselves clean. Take your wrong-doing out of my sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good. When the clergy heed the Word of the Lord, the People of God will surely follow suit. Let us continue to pray for the priests and religious, that they will be humble and show us the way of love and service, and bring about healing for the Church.
1. Don’t Be Called “Rabbi” and “Master”: Both the word “Rabbi” in Hebrew and the word “Master” as it is used here are words that we would translate as “Teacher.” In Jesus’s time, “Don’t call anyone ‘Teacher’ except the Christ,” was a way of saying that the most important, the greatest teacher in life, was to be the Christ (the Messiah). No other teacher was as important as Christ, and Christ most deserved to be called “Teacher.” Jewish people in Jesus’s time certainly called many people “Rabbi” and “Master”; the Christians continued to do so afterward, but they acknowledged that Christ is our primary Teacher and Master.
2. Don’t Be Called “Father”: Some Christians citing this passage object to calling priests “Father,” yet they continue to use the word for their own fathers, so what does Jesus mean here? He means that all fathers have Someone to measure up to—that the person who really deserves the title “Father” is the heavenly Father and that the others only deserve the title insofar as they resemble the heavenly Father. He is the one who is truly Father. This is a challenge for both priests and the fathers of families. We are called to imitate the merciful love of God the Father in our vocation.
3. To Be Great, You Must Serve: All around us, we see people who seek to be great by dominating others. This is a temptation everyone feels at some point—to increase our power, fame, wealth, etc., by forcing others to accept our will. God wants us to do his will, and his will involves serving others as he did. Christ our King humbly healed, blessed, and served others his entire life, and ultimately died for us on the Cross. To be great, we do not dominate—we serve, as did our King.
Conversing with Christ: Lord, instead of hardening my heart to do my own will, I want to open my heart more to you and to others. You offered your life for me and I am often overwhelmed by your love. I am grateful for this. Remembering your sacrifice helps me to want to love more, even though sometimes loving hurts.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will try to forgive when a conflict arises, and love more instead of hardening my heart to defend myself.
Prayer: Lord God, you want us to live our faith not so much as a set of rules and practices but as a relationship from person to person with you and with people. God, keep our hearts turned to you, that we may live what we believe and that we may express our love for you in terms of service to those around us, as Jesus did, your Son, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen