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Thứ Tư, 8 tháng 2, 2012

Following Jeus Christ or …?

“A curse is on you (Pharisees) for you are like tombstones of the dead which can hardly be seen; people don’t notice them and make themselves unclean by stepping on them. Then a teacher of the Law spoke up and said, Master, when you speak like this, you insult us, too. And Jesus answered: A curse is on you also, teachers of the Law. For you prepare unbearable burdens and load them on the people, while you yourselves don’t move a finger to help them” (Luke 11:44-46).  

I would like to share my reflection on the gospel reading mentioned above in five points that are described and presented in the following.
First, when I read the Gospel reading for the first time, I was asking myself why Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees and scribes so strongly: a curse is on you, Pharisees; a curse is on you, teachers of the Law. I looked for several sentences before the reading of today and found a very interesting reason, that is, a Pharisee invited Jesus to have a meal with him and Jesus went and sat at table without washing his hands before dinner. At the time of Jesus’ ministry, when the religious leaders were bent on destroying Him, why would a Pharisee invite Him to his home for a meal? If he had been sincerely seeking truth, he would have talked with Jesus privately. It seems obvious that he was looking for an opportunity to accuse Jesus. Although the Pharisee did not say anything, Jesus just knew his thought and started scolding him that his spirituality was wrong, saying “you Pharisees, you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside yourselves you are full of greed and evil. You fools!” Wow! How strong are the chastisements! I think that after saying this, Jesus was not given a chance to eat and was even asked to leave the Pharisee’s house.
I examine myself that if I am invited to have a meal with someone and I realize that that person has a bad attitude toward me, I may not do as Jesus did. Perhaps I will reveal my thoughts to him another time or I do not have enough courage to disclose them because I am afraid of the bad consequences of my words. How about you brothers and sisters? What could be yours?
Second, we often hear familiar expressions: “don’t judge people by their appearance” or “don’t judge a book by its cover.” If we judge people by their appearances or a book by its cover, we may always have a wrong judgment. Let me give a real and convincing example for this case. Correct me if I am wrong in narrating this story. During the time of Confucius in China, many Chinese people did not have enough rice to eat, and they did not have electric cooker as we have now so they generally cooked food by charcoals, dry wood, or any other materials. Confucius and his disciples were poor; they also did not have enough rice for their daily living. Therefore, one day, one of Confucius’s disciples cooked rice for him and his classmates, while his friends went to market to buy something. When the rice was cooked, he opened the lid of the pot, and suddenly a strong wind blew and so many ashes from dry wood fell into the pot. Thus the rice on the surface became dirty. He thought that if he threw away the rice from the surface, it would be wasted and there would not be enough rice for both his master and friends to eat for that day. He therefore decided to eat the dirty rice. Unfortunately while he was eating, Confucius saw him eat before him and others. In seeing that, Confucius thought that this disciple wanted to fill his empty stomach only and ignored others’ hunger; he was not good at all. When the time of meal came, this disciple did not eat rice any more and said: I already ate for after I cooked rice, the rice on the surface was dirty because of ashes from dry wood. If I threw it away, it would be wasted and there would not be enough rice for all of you to eat; therefore I ate it. After hearing the explanation of this disciple, Confucius acknowledged that he judged this disciple wrongly even if he witnessed his action.
Likewise, when the Pharisees saw Jesus did not wash his hands before eating, they negatively thought that Jesus did not observe the Jewish Law. They really judged Jesus based on the Law and their own standards, and Jesus told them: you judged wrongly. Saint Paul advised Christians in Rome that “We must no longer pass judgment on one another” (Rm 14:12). The letter of James mentions that “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, one who can save and destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12). In general, Jesus teaches us that “Do not judge and you will not be judged” (Mt 7:1).
Third, the thoughts and behaviors of Jesus and those of Pharisees and scribes are totally different from each other. Many examples in the New Testaments can prove this. Here are some of them. Jesus is always humble and gentle of heart, while the Pharisees and scribes are always proud of themselves, their holiness. Additionally, Jesus come to liberate people from captives, to give sight to the blind, to free the oppressed (Lk 4:18); in contrast, the Pharisees always find people’s mistakes and execute them (Jn 8:1-11) and the scribes prepare unbearable burdens and load them on the people but they themselves do not move a finger to help them (Lk 11:46). This dichotomy between Jesus and Pharisees and scribes is sharply clear.
Jesus admonished the Pharisees that they prioritized their religious activities wrongly and they should put them into proper perspective. Besides that, the scribes felt that they were good at the Lord’s words and tried to defend themselves, and therefore Jesus used a vivid illustration in answering them that they were good at adding to the burdens of the people, but they had no heart for helping them carry those burdens. Generally speaking, the Pharisees were like hidden tombs and the scribes built complicated graves.
Fourth, I would like to raise a question that: Is our Catholic church following the teachings of Jesus? Jesus never excluded anybody. In order words, He accepted every person. Those who are considered bad by society are all welcomed by Jesus. He never sent them away. For example, Jesus did not kick Peter out of his group when he denied him three times. By and large, in seeing people who thought and did wrongly, for example Pharisees, scribes, Peter, other his disciples, Jesus admonished their thoughts and behaviors so that they could become good persons. However, our Church, particularly some religious congregations seems to generally accept only good people and trains them to become perfect ones. Those who think wrongly and do something wrong, especially violate the vow of chastity are usually kicked out. As a matter of fact, Jesus says, “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. I have come to call to repentance; I call sinners, not the righteous” (Lk 5:31).
Lastly, through the reading, I would like to invite all of us to examine ourselves, our respective family, community, congregation, and overall our Catholic Church: Am I really following Christ in setting others free from bondage, sickness, sin, and the like? Or am I following Pharisees and scribes in living hypocritically and/or giving burdens to others?

Tran Thai Son

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