“Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status.” — Matthew 22:16
This Sunday is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found here. Once again, the Pharisees attempt to trap Jesus by asking him about his loyalty to the Roman Empire and his loyalty to the oppressed subjects of the Roman Empire.
The egocentric part of me is sympathetic to the Pharisees (perhaps because I have no small part Pharisee in me). Unlike other Jews they upheld the Mosaic laws passed on to them by tradition. Unlike other Jews they did not collaborate with the Romans. Unlike other Jews, they did not hang out with sinners.
It is an interesting psychological question as to why the Pharisees were antagonistic towards Jesus. Were they jealous of his popularity? Were they concerned that Jesus’ message of radical love and mercy would weaken the Mosaic law that had survived brutal occupation and exile from numerous empires? Perhaps rather than using tradition as a pathway to God, the Pharisees substituted these very traditions for God?
It is easy for us to look down upon the Pharisees and condemn them for plotting against Jesus because they have malice in their hearts. We notice the many time when they were in the wrong. We wonder, “How could they do this to Jesus? Did they not know who he was?” If we have these types of thoughts, then we are much like the Pharisees. We cannot be looking for the reasons people are wrong. We have to use the example of Jesus when he detects their malice and leads them to choose a loftier path to take.
We probably all know someone whose life is defined by conflict. These people are not happy unless they are angry with someone. Sometimes, they cannot even remember the reason they are angry with you and over time their anger has morphed into an altogether different reason. It is important to know that we cannot fix these people’s situations. They may always be angry, controlling people. They are fighting with themselves, even though we may be the recipients of their misplaced anger. It is not our fault. The best we can do is to meet their malice with kindness. Memories of kindness linger. Kindness heals.
Pope Francis is teaching the bishops and cardinals about the virtues of kindness. In Rome, he is helping them soften their attitudes about people in contentious social situations – divorced and remarried Catholics, those who cohabitate, and those who are gay and lesbian. While no doctrine is being changed, a fundamental shift occurs when the church no longer labels its own faithful members as adversaries and enemies.
Some will argue that rules must be upheld. Of course, that is true. However, look at the many ways we break the rules daily and if we get caught, we want mercy granted to us. We are overeager in our driving, we can be aggressive pedestrians, we might be silent if a store does not charge us for an item we intend to buy, or we seek inaccurate tax advantages. Some of us take great offense if a neighbor questions our motives or actions. Get off your high horses. We like laws when it is to our advantage, but we all seek to have our minor infractions overlooked. We pick and choose which laws we obey and disregard and we criticize others when they disregard a law we value. Strive for consistency and integrity so that you do not seek the fault in others, but try to bring a balance to your values.