ORDINARY 31 (A)
Do not follow their example. They tie up heavy burdens …but they will not lift a finger to move them. _ Mt. 23: 3-4
A larger than average man stepped on a scale not knowing it was out of order. The indicator stopped at 75 lbs. A little boy, standing nearby with his mother, watched the man intently. “Whaddya know,” he marveled, “He’s hollow!”
Our Lord doesn’t have much use for anyone whose religion is hollow, but He took special aim at the Scribes & Pharisees because they were in positions of leadership. They were inauthentic because they gave higher priority to self-service than to the service of others, especially the poor, ordinary people of God, known as the “Anawim.”
Three persons were talking about some of the recent translations of the Bible. One said, “I like the New English version of the Gospels. It’s easier reading than all the older versions.” The second one said, “I prefer the New Jerusalem Bible. The translations have modernized the language without sacrificing reverence.” To which the third person replied, “I know an even better translation. I like my mother’s translation best. She translated the Bible into life, & it is the most convincing translation I have ever seen. She was a loving person who always took the needs of others seriously. That’s what Jesus did, when He was on earth.” To which we could all respond, “Well said!”
Actually, no one can practice what they preach. Recognizing spiritual truth & translating it into our lives can be messy. Here are the words of a person in the aftermath of a great spiritual awakening wherein many great spiritual truths became clear to him. He writes:
“Some months after all this ecstasy came a depression, along with some significant betrayals in my work. I had continuing trouble with my children & family too. Oh, my teaching was fine. I could give inspired lectures, but if you talk to my wife, she’ll tell you that as the time passed I became grouchy & as impatient as ever. I knew that this great spiritual vision was the truth, & it was there underneath, but I also recognized how many things didn’t change at all. To be honest, my mind & personality were pretty much the same, & my neuroses too. Perhaps, it’s worse, because now I see them more clearly. Here were these cosmic revelations & I still needed therapy just to sort through the day-to-day mistakes & lessons of living a human life.”
It seems that we can have a clear vision of our human possibilities that show us a new way of being alive. But when we try to live it out, we bump into our conditioned personalities, our lifelong habits & our history of yielding to social pressures. It has been said that a holy teacher may fall from grace when dealing with family & taxes. Who would think that you could still be grouchy after grasping the truth & beauty of what our Lord is trying to show us?
So practicing what we preach means repenting of our practice. We do not do it right. Therefore, we either give up the project of being transformed by our vision of what could be or go back to the drawing board. The latter entails purifying ourselves of the material that keeps us from living the truth we know & the vision we see. This repentance should not be a stigma, branding us as failures. It comes with the territory of following something large enough for you to betray. When you preach a community of love under one God & one Master, we need to keep the sackcloth & ashes handy.
Yes, there is an important sense in which we are all hypocrites, but we know that we are. We are not blind to our condition, & we recognize that we are, all of us, a work in progress; but we are not deterred by that fact. We are all trying to realize something that is much bigger & grander than we are. But we also know that it requires God’s grace. We cannot do it alone, & that is the crucial difference between ourselves & the Scribes & Pharisees of our Lord’s day. AMEN!