Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Rosalino Reyes Dizon)

Ross Reyes DizonHomilies and reflections, Year CLeave a Comment

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I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers (Rom 9, 3)

The Pharisees avoid sinful company so as not to put their salvation at risk.  These “separated ones” keep themselves apart even from other members of the laity, so distinguished they think they are because of their knowledge of the Mosaic law, their strict interpretation of it and their exact religious observance.  They are faithful not just to the Torah.  They keep besides, in contrast to the priests, the “tradition of the elders.”

Observing such tradition that serves as a fence around the Torah, the Pharisees take precautions against the least violations.  They thus are guaranteed salvation.  They believe they stand head and shoulders above everybody in righteousness.  They are exclusivists who scorn particularly “the people of the land,” who do not know and do not care.  They feel threatened by people like Jesus who may contribute to their losing their professorial chair.

Jesus does denounce them.  He calls them hypocrites, brood of vipers; he unmasks their falsehood.  He questions their religious leadership and proposes a righteousness that surpasses theirs.  He reminds them of the weightier matters of the law:  justice, mercy and faith.  And since they and the high priests turn strange bedfellows in their opposition to Jesus and in their lack of faith and repentance, they likewise deserve to be warned:  “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”

No, those who are under the illusion that they are self-sufficient cannot feel the need for a Messiah who will call them to repentance and save them.  They call upon God more to congratulate themselves that they not sinners like the rest nor are they like the despicable tax collectors.  They reduce God to a lifeless idol, silent in the face of their self-righteousness and their mistaken belief that justification starts and ends with them.

And as they never feel themselves lacking in anything, the Pharisees do not know the joy of receiving something that is needed or of finding something lost.  Since they have never left their father’s house and never disobeyed him, they know nothing of the joy of the forgiven brother or of the forgiving father.  They cannot have the blessedness of the poor, to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.  Thinking themselves established in holiness, they neither hunger nor thirst for righteousness.  It is so much enough for them to be assured of salvation that they do not care if others are lost.

But the salvation of others matters to Jesus.  Just as Moses, his type, focused on interceding for a stiff-necked people, instead of getting distracted by the promise, “I will make you a great nation,” so also Jesus fix his attention on ransoming everybody, emptying himself and sacrificing his own life.  He gives his body up and sheds his blood for all, so that sins may be forgiven.

Indeed, Jesus strives to save others, while the Pharisees are determined to save themselves.  He expects us to do the same, to burn our pharisaic idols and repent of our pharisaism, to confess that we are foremost sinners and to accept that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  He wants us to have the conviction St. Vincent de Paul learned from him:  “It is not enough for me to love God, if my neighbor does not love him” (Coste XII, 262).  Would it be enough for me that I am saved, if Assad is not?

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