Psalm 1:1-4, 6 (with John 8:12)
USCCB Podcast of the Readings:
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke.
The Lord said:
“Woe to you Pharisees!
You 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, without overlooking the others.
Woe to you Pharisees!
You love the seat of honor in synagogues
and greetings in marketplaces.
Woe to you!
You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”
Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply,
“Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.”
And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”
When we see someone sinning, how should we handle it? Saint Paul, in today’s first reading, gives “warning” to his listeners in the church at Galatia. Jesus, in the Gospel reading, warns the Pharisees of their sins with exclamations of “Woe!” Do we dare to be as bold? When we do, won’t we chase people away?
The key to doing this right is at the end of the first reading: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.” This means that we only give our warnings under the direction of and in the Spirit of Christ: with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
But did the Galatians realize that Paul loved them and was being patient with them? Probably, since they were all community members who already knew he was as caring as he was loud. And Paul, who is a prototype for all leaders in the hierarchy of the Church, did not speak with an attitude of superiority; he admitted publicly his own struggles with sin.
Did the Pharisees realize that Jesus loved them and was being patient with them? Ho-ho. Definitely not!
It didn’t matter what the Galatians thought of Paul. The only thing that mattered was what God thought of Paul. Nor did it matter what the Pharisees thought of Jesus. Even though Jesus never sinned, and even though Jesus was in fact superior to the Pharisees, he did not scold them with an attitude of superiority. Teaching all of us by his example, he spoke the facts clearly, simply, and directly, with no motive other than to invite them to true holiness.
Nor does it matter what others think of us when we speak the truth. The only thing that matters is what God thinks of us. Does he see anything in us that is not guided by the Holy Spirit? Does he see us rejecting or neglecting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control? Yes, he does, because none of us have perfected our sainthood yet.
We must not hold back from speaking up with the warnings and woes that the Spirit inspires within us, but first we need to examine our motives and our consciences. There is a way to invite others into greater holiness without being a hypocrite: Like Paul, be honest and let the person you’re speaking to know that you, too, struggle with sin. From the humility of admitting your own vulnerabilities grows your compassion for the sinners you want to help. From that compassion flows God’s love and patience and all the other fruits of the Spirit.
We have a limited understanding of the reasons why the people around us choose to sin. Therefore, we cannot make a true judgment against them. From this non-condemning position, we can invite them to trade up to a better life. Our invitation is based on what we’ve learned from our own shortcomings. It doesn’t matter if they still reject us anyway. What matters is that God appreciates us for trying to convey the truth with passion for Christ and compassion for the person we’re trying to help.
Forgive me, Lord, because I’m more concerned about appearances than about giving Your love to my neighbors. Amen.
© 2018 by Terry A. Modica