Readings: Isaiah 1:10, 16-20, Ps. 50:8-9,16-17,21,23, Matthew 23:1-12

“… so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23:3)

When we critically examine those whom God calls to ministry, we cannot but agree with St. Paul, who said: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). God does not call the qualified; rather, He qualifies those who respond to His call. The bad news is that God’s ministers scandalise the faithful in the process of being qualified. This brings us to today’s lessons:

1. Peel off the Fruit’s Skin and Enjoy Its Content: God’s ministers are earthly vessels carrying divine treasures. Like dirty-looking fruits, these vessels may look so disfigured that people are tempted to ignore their contents. St. Paul VI was right when he said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” However, Jesus teaches us today to ignore the vessels (ignore their bad deeds) and make the best of the treasures (what they preach). He wants us to obey their teaching even if these teachers are not witnesses.

2. Be a Witness; Nothing is Hidden Under the Sun: You are not what you say you are; you are what you do. Your actions (especially those done in secret) reveal your identity. “Who am I when no one is watching?” The biggest temptation faced by persons who stand daily to preach (or address the public) is the attraction of living a double life. The scribes and Pharisees fell into this temptation; they thought their deeds were hidden, that no one would know what they did in secret. They were shocked that Jesus knew everything. If I think people are unaware of what I do secretly, I live in self-deception. (Cf. Luke 8:17).

3. Serve God in Spirit and Truth: The scribes and Pharisees were more concerned about their appearance than their holiness. They invested heavily in looking good but remained ugly in God’s sight. They took seats of honour at banquets but remained unworthy of the eternal banquet. They sat in the front rows of the synagogue, but without oil in their lamps, they were destined to remain outside like the foolish virgins. (Matthew 25:1-13). They enjoyed the respect of men but had no integrity in God’s sight; they didn’t deserve the titles they gave themselves. They prayed at street corners and marketplaces, but such prayers were only for those watching. The world should insult me while heaven claps rather than have people hail me while heaven weeps.

4. The Danger of Hypocrisy: In the book of Revelation, God threatens: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16). Hypocrisy makes us lukewarm - we are just there; lacking fire for ministry, unable to inspire or convert souls. Jesus asked the people to listen to the preaching of the scribes and Pharisees, but the reality is that even their preaching was weak. Knowing that I am guilty of a particular sin, I cannot talk about it in a way that can make anyone repent from the sin. No wonder Jesus was praised for “teaching as one who had authority.” (Mark 1:22, Luke 4:32). There was so much fire in Jesus’ teaching that even those possessed by demons became uncomfortable in the synagogue.

In conclusion, Isaiah says: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doing from before God’s eyes, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow…” (Cf. Isaiah 1:16ff). It is better if I am not a Christian at all than to be a bad Christian.

Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, show me the path of true holiness. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (Tuesday of the 2nd week of Lent. Bible Study: Isaiah 1:10,16-20, Ps. 50:8-9,16-17,21,23, Matthew 23:1-12).

@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu