The Gospel according to Matthew (23:1-12)
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Opening Prayer: Jesus, help me see that all the good I do is nothing, except to the extent that it is being done for Your glory, not mine. Help me today to see myself more as a servant, wanting to do good, not to be repaid in compliments or any kind of reward, except that it makes You smile to see it. Amen.
In this hyper-competitive world we live in, doesn’t it always seem like we are competing, even in the race to be the “best”, “most faithful”, “most devout” Catholic? And, at this early point in Lent, with a little over a month until Easter, we are reminded that if we are competing that way in our faith, we are absolutely missing the point of our faith entirely.
At Jesus’ time, if you wanted to know who was the most “religious” of the Jews, you only had to look for the Pharisees. They were the scholars of the law, and knew every one of the hundreds of precepts that faithful Jews were expected to follow. The tradition of these laws was passed down from generation to generation. That was the “chair of Moses” that Jesus mentioned. The Pharisees had authority, because it had come down through the years to their current day.
The problem, though, is that the faith was not about all of those hundreds of rules. It was quite literally about only two: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said to His listeners in Matthew’s Gospel exactly what He says to us: Yes, follow the rules of the faith, because they will help you be the best version of yourself, but don’t think that following the rules alone is enough to be a true follower of Mine.
In our world today, it is so easy to think that if we only go to mass, do our best to keep the Ten Commandments, abstain from meat on Fridays, it’s enough. No, it isn’t. Does that mean that we should not stick to the guidelines of our Catholic faith? Of course not. But, we do have to go beyond the rules to see what following them can teach us about Jesus, and our place in the family of God.
I think back to my “pre-Catholic” days. I liked to think that I knew a lot about being a Christian “in my head”. I could recite the names of books of the Bible (the Protestant version) in order, all the way from Genesis to Revelation. I knew John 3:16, Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:9, and a dozen or more important Scriptures. But, I realize now that my faith was largely in my head, not in my heart. When I moved away from home to go to college, I really struggled in my faith because it was all academic. Did I know that God was with me? Yes, but only in some abstract, intellectual way, not as one who truly wanted me to companion Him every day. That may be one reason that many young people are falling away from the faith. They know the rules and the guidelines as facts, not as signposts of the faith.
Until the faith is truly from our deepest part of our hearts, it will ultimately fail to fulfill the deepest desires we have. Those desires are the ones that call us to the God who loves us. They call us to live a life of a servant, who wants the best for the other, because that is truly “what Jesus would do”. Lent is a season that can help us to re-center on that fact, and to turn to that God who loves us, and ask Him to show us how to love Him better by loving the people He placed us with. Getting to the point where we do live our faith from our hearts is not some sort of magic switch. It is something that we grow into throughout our lives. Let us take a step today – now – to start that journey. The way may not be easy, but we never go alone, and the destination is one that we can scarcely imagine for its beauty, light and joy!
Closing Prayer: Lord, help me move beyond mere knowledge of You to being able to see Your presence in my life, and to see that You call me to love like You do. Give me the grace to surrender my fears to You, knowing that You will replace them with grace and peace, and a yearning to serve You better each day. Amen.
Action for the Day: Take a few minutes today and ask God what it is that He wants you to see today that reminds you that you are His beloved. Then, keep your eyes open for it!