I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name is reverenced among the nations. And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse on you and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.
But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction. Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?
We were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers.
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,
"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.
"But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father-the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."
The Gospels have many conflicts between Christ and the Pharisees and in general he denounces their tendency to equate morality with law. The Pharisaism that he critices is the belief that all that God asks of us is to keep the Law, through the performance of works of piety, fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The Pharisees put stress on little things (Tithe of mint, dill and cummin) while neglecting the more essential matters of faith, justice and mercy. They showed zeal in making converts who duly became legalists themselves. The outcome was that the Pharisees tended to be hypocrites, a title which Jesus bestowed on them with great liberality.
Today's Gospel invites all, especially devout people who may tend to be judgmental of others, to examine our consciences. We need a precious gift of God, the willingness to face up to ourselves by acknowledging our personal and social guilt.
Today's second reading issues a challenge to the whole congregation but especially the preacher. We are supposed to live up to what we say we are, followers of Christ. We are, in a single word, called to live by love, love in its deepest sense.
This word "Love" is much bandied about but less frequently understood and practiced. Jesus gave the supreme example of its real meaning in his life, death and resurrection. But he did not die and rise in order to prevent or excuse us from sharing personally in his selfless experience. If we are to be redeemed, if we are to be Christians with Him, we must in our turn undergo death and resurrection. We must practise what we preach! We must mean what we say and do what we mean.
In the play A Man for All Seasons about Sir Thomas More, there is a scene in which Margaret, More's daughter, pleads with her father to stop opposing king Henry VIII and swear to the Act of Succession. Only in this way can he save his life and get out of jail. But More refuses to agree to something he believes is wrong. He says: "If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good and greed would make us saintly.. But since we see that anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit us far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude and justice, if we have to choose to be human at all, then perhaps we must stand fast a little, even at the risk of being heroes." When Margaret still begged him to compromise: "Haven't you done as much as God can reasonably want?" her father gave this answer: "Well.. finally.. it isn't a matter of reason; finally it's a matter of love."
This is the unconditional love that Christ spoke about and practised. In the end we shall be judged on that standard alone. Our own efforts to bring direction and meaning to the "animated aimlessness" of our lives will, if touched by the love of God and expressed through love of our fellow human beings, have an eternal value.