In the Gospel portion today, taken from Mathew 23, Jesus speaks of the Pharisees and scribes, who are the spiritual leaders of the Jewish religion. He tells of how they are predominantly concerned with their position in the community, their rank as priests and even their attire. This is a concerning matter for Jesus because the Pharisees were called to their priestly order in order to bring the Jewish people closer to God, through their traditions and practices. Instead of fulfilling this calling, they became overwhelming obsessed with their position as Pharisees and the respect and prestige that came with it. Jesus explains that they would go to gatherings/religious ceremonies and expect the best seats. Further, they wanted to be called “teacher” or in Hebrew, “rabbi,” as a form of flattery. All these examples were said by Christ in order to point out the fact that Pharisees “idolized” the position of Pharisee (and the same for scribes). In other words, they did not have a sense of humility that their position was given to them as a gift from God. Rather, they exalted themselves, becoming self-absorbed. It was a sort of worship of position, title, and rank. This was so because they found their identity in themselves…in what they did…their position, rank, and title, rather than in God. By extension rather than becoming a servant to serve the people, and bringing them closer to God, they wanted to be served by the people. They lost sight of their initial calling.
Has anyone noticed a theme that has come up during the past few Sundays? For those ardent studiers of the lectionary, I am talking about the Sundays from the second to the fifth Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross. In these Gospel passages, Christ has an encounter with the Pharisees and in each encounter, Christ shows them the error of their logic.
In the Gospel reading today the disciples of Jesus are picking grain and in so doing breaking the Mosaic Law; that is, one should not do any type of work during the Sabbath. This was made evident by the Pharisees who saw this and questioned Jesus about the disciples behavior. Jesus in reply pointed to the fact that David had gone into the area of the Holy Temple and was given the showbread to eat by the Priest. Jesus makes this point to demonstrate that David, by law, was not allowed to enter into the Holy Place, but due to an extreme need, was given the bread by the Priest, and God did not see it as sin, nor breaking the law. Likewise, the picking of grain on the Sabbath is necessary—for food is an essential part of human living.
There are often many issues, some serious and others minor, that arise between individuals in various settings such as, parish, workplace, home, etc. By issues I mean: misunderstandings based on what someone said or what someone did. Often misunderstandings come from our misinterpretation; that is, what is said or done is perceived with a different meaning than what is intentioned.
In the age of advanced information technology, where we know the “where, when, what and why” of what is happening in the world within minutes, it is hard for us to accept the words of Christ when he says, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32) Here we see that it is only God that knows the hour and time of the end of the age; that is, the end of the universe as we know it.