"Woe to You, Scribes and Pharisees"
August 30th Readings Reflection: Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel contains two condemnations that Jesus made against the scribes and Pharisees, both beginning with the words, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.” One way of reading Sacred Scripture is to imagine that we are witnessing the scene firsthand. If we imagine being among the scribes and Pharisees during the scene in today’s Gospel, we likely see ourselves immediately falling to our knees and begging God’s mercy and forgiveness. However, the scribes and Pharisees did not react in such a way.
Three chapters later in St. Matthew’s Gospel, the evangelist wrote that “the chief priests and ancients of the people…consulted together, that by subtilty [sic] they might apprehend Jesus, and put [H]im to death” (Mat 26:3-4 DRB). The scribes and Pharisees did not listen to Christ’s words that we hear in today’s Gospel; they refused to hear His warning that they would suffer the “judgment of hell” (Mat 23:33). Instead, they hardened their hearts and ultimately sentenced Our Lord to death.
It is easy for us to think about all of this and separate ourselves from the scribes and Pharisees. We think that surely we would not have hardened our hearts against Jesus if we had been one of the scribes and Pharisees. Surely we would have listened to His words and repented. However, the Church encourages us to contemplate this deeper and ask ourselves whether we truly would have repented or if we would have remained obstinate like the scribes and Pharisees.
We encounter many opportunities within our lives to test ourselves in this matter. Sometimes, obeying the Church’s teachings can be incredibly difficult, resulting in our being ostracized, ridiculed, or even persecuted. In such situations, we must pray for the grace and strength to remain faithful to the Church’s teachings and to patiently bear the sufferings that may result. We believe that the Catholic Church has received her teachings from Jesus Christ Himself, passed down unchanged through the Apostles and their successors. These teachings are called Sacred Tradition, which the Catholic Church reveres with the same “devotion and reverence” as Sacred Scripture, recognizing both as the infallible Word of God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 82). Thus, to disobey a teaching of the Church is to disobey a teaching from God Himself, making such disobedience a very serious matter.
Earlier this week, Bishop Barron pointed out that the darker passages of the Gospels, such as the one we read today, are not meant to make us fearful of God. God’s laws do not exist to oppress us but rather to free us from the bonds of sin and death by showing us how to respond to His grace. As Bishop Barron explained, God is both merciful and just. God desires that each of us accept His grace, obey His laws, and resist temptation so that we may attain eternal salvation. May we pray for the grace each day to answer God’s call to repentance and always obey His teachings that we receive through the Catholic Church, trusting that His are “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68).