“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.” One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.” And he said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.” – Luke 11:42-46
Do we ever find ourselves rooting for Jesus in this Gospel passage? “Give it to ‘em hard, Lord! They deserve it!” We imagine ourselves there in the scene—our arms sternly crossed, our heads shaking in disapproval of those oh-so hypocritical Pharisees. Soon our thoughts turn to someone we know who “should also receive a good verbal lashing!” Even a priest or a bishop might be the subject of our mental reprimand. Yet we now find ourselves right in the shoes of the very Pharisees we so deplore: Our hearts are embittered and dry. Although we are able to condemn with the Lord, we do not love with the Lord. We forget that Christ would lay down his life for these Pharisees he is calling to conversion—even if they were the only ones who needed to be saved. Pointing the finger is easy, but a call to conversion can come only from a heart that loves.
Is there anyone who can’t find at least one thing wrong in their place of worship? One thing is to see, pray for, and help resolve these difficulties. Another matter is to dwell on them. Are you that individual who tends to dwell on the bad things? Who lets everyone know of the opportunities to improve but never lifts a finger to work towards those improvements? Christ used hard words, but they were only fruit of intense love and longing for the scribes’ and Pharisees’ salvation, not an intense bitterness toward them. If you and I have any bitterness in our hearts, we need to ask Christ for the grace to forgive and to forgive as Christ forgives.
Our Lord was the greatest teacher, the great pedagogue of the fullness of life: the love of the Father. He knew how to bring souls along little by little, at their pace and to the extent they were capable. The opposite is true of the lawyers at the end of this Gospel passage. They would load restrictions, heavy responsibilities, and weighty sacrifices upon the people, but would not reach out a helping hand to assist the people in carrying the weight. As Christians, we are called to help illuminate the consciences of those around us so that they might have a closer relationship with God. However, if illuminating their consciences is merely our euphemism for “throwing the book at them”, we need to stop and see if Christ’s words don’t apply to us as well: “For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.”
Are you that person living in the glass house? Is your glass half empty or half full? Do you put your needs over the needs of others? Today, as your thoughts turn to be critical of someone or the way they are doing things, stop and think about the good qualities that you find in that individual and then pray for them. And while you’re at it, pray for yourself, that you might have a change of heart and no longer point fingers at others but raise those fingers in search of peace, love, and solidarity.
Peace and Blessings.