Homily Mt.23,13-22 ("Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!")
Today we hear, from the apostle and evangelist St. Matthew, the first four of our Lord’s seven
woes to the scribes and pharisees at the Temple; this was part of His diatribe against them in response to their deliberate and concerted attempts to publicly discredit Him and His teachings. Our reading takes this up when He began, at first without woes, and continues as He adds the charge “hypocrites” to the “woe” in the second and from the fourth woe onward, and after our reading He will round it all off with a dire lamentation over Jerusalem. We have only the first four woes in today’s proclamation of the good news about the Christ. And it is good news, as opposing lies and immorality is a very good thing to do, so His example is part of the good news about Him.
The point our Savior is making is to shun the worst teachings of the Scribes and Pharisees, and his
focus is not only on their hypocrisy, but on the ways in which their teachings actually prevent people from entering the Kingdom of God, and actually teaches them to behave in ways that lead them into hell. That, of course, is not very good.
He calls those teachers “blind fools”! It is indeed possible to do evil so much that one becomes so
imbued with it that one no longer realizes how bad one’s behavior is, and that indeed is a most lamentable state – and may the good Lord preserve us from ever entering into it. It makes one oblivious, but it may well be among those consequences that one should foresee, and would be guilty of along with the initial evil actions. Now that is one big fat terrible trap to fall into, and one can well imagine the devil laughing with derision upon leading anyone into such a trap: You start out doing some small evil, and instead of foreseeing – and you ought to – that it can lead you into worse, you blithely dismiss that possibility and continue, over time becoming unaware that you’re doing evil, and leading others into doing evil, imagining that it’s all good and in your eventual favor, when really it’s digging your own condemnation deeper and ever deeper, no longer realizing it! Terrible.
It’s a good reason to avoid evil in the first place. It’s a good reason to check on how we’re doing
with our actions, and to include in such a review our habitual actions. It’s a good reason to keep reading the teachings of the Church about morals, including the scriptures but also other writings for variety, lest our moral sense should grow dull.
I think the scribes and the Pharisees were in quite a spot there, being spiritually blinded. How
would you go about getting out of such a trap, if you were in it, when you can’t even tell you’re in it?
Seems as if our Lord’s doing them a huge favor, by making a blatant big stink about what they were up to; sometimes it’s just what one needs: a good solid shaking up! And it’s a sorry state when even the most vigorous shaking by the most vigorous and righteous teacher cannot waken one from such a deep obliviousness to one’s own predicament.
The problem, as I see it, is this: if we are in such a trap, we can’t see that we’re in it, and can’t see
even a need to check and find out if we’re in it. What can one say?
And that, I shall leave at that.