27 August 2008 Memorial of St. Monica
2 Thessalonians 3, 6-10, 16-18; Matthew 23, 27-32
The Gospel continues the “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees” and today, He compared them to whitewashed tombs that looks beautiful on the outside but contains the bones of the dead and other filth in the inside.
For the Jew at the time of Jesus, this image was vivid. Tombs were often placed on the wayside. Every pilgrim on his or her way to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple was endangered from being ritually unclean. You see, the Pharisees and scribes had passed a law that whoever came in contact with tombs and dead bodies became unclean. The unclean were then disallowed from worship in the Temple. They had to go through an elaborate ritual to ‘regain’ their cleanliness. This was the reason why the Levite did not want to help the victim in the story of the Good Samaritan. So they painted the tombs white, for everybody to see and thus avoid. The whitewashed tombs would look ‘beautiful’ by the wayside, but remained dirty on the inside.
To Jesus, the Pharisees and scribes may look deeply pious and holy, but their hearts were full of vile and sin. This, however, was not just a Christian description but also a Jewish one. The Jews distinguished six different kinds of Pharisees who do their jobs for all sorts of motivations, except doing it for their deep love of God (the 7th classification of Pharisees). The Pharisees and the scribes are keepers of the Law. However, they trivialized and concocted ridiculous laws. Every rule protected a value. It was supposed to help people live in an ‘orderly way’ (first reading). “Orderly behavior” meant consistent with our nature as human beings. If the law did not protect the value, then following the law became irrelevant, superfluous and meaningless.
We can reflect on any of these two points. First, we can look at ourselves like whitewashed tombs. Is there an inconsistency with how we project ourselves with others and our real inner selves? When are the times when we pretend to be happy and unaffected but in reality, we are confused and troubled?
Second, we can look at the laws of our lives. Have we ever questioned the relevance and meaning of the little laws that we follow? Do these laws provide order in our lives, or do they add to the burdens we already have?