Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday in the 28th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of Ss. John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, Priests and Martyrs, and Their Companions, Martyrs
Losing Our Grip

Readings: Romans 4:1-8; Psalm 32:1b-2, 5, 11; Luke 12:1-7

Once again, the third gospel tells us of a time when so many people were crowding together to see Jesus and hear what he had to say that they were trampling one another underfoot. Yet Jesus seems oblivious to the presence of all these hungry souls. Instead of immediately ministering to them, we’re told that he began to speak first to his disciples. He warns them about the leaven of the Pharisees. What’s so important about this teaching that it can’t wait till Jesus has seen to the needs of the crowds? What’s so dangerous about the leaven of the Pharisees? Is their hypocrisy really so deadly?

To appreciate the gravity of Jesus’ warning, we need to consider again what he is talking about. The problem seems to be not so much the isolated actions of the Pharisees, as their whole approach to life and to God, as well as the reason why they do the things they do. Why do they obsess over minute details of the Law? Why do they like to show off their good works while covering up their own shortcomings? Why do they tend to judge others so mercilessly? In doing all these things, are they not trying desperately to maintain a tight grip on life? And not just life on this earth, but even in the hereafter? And why do they feel the need to do all this? Jesus gets to the heart of their motivation when he speaks to his disciples about fear. The Pharisees, and all like them, are driven by a deep anxiety born of a lack of trust. They find it difficult to let go, to lose their grip on life, because they cannot be sure that there will be anyone to catch them if they do. They cling desperately to things that are within their control – the Law, their own pious observances – in the hope that these will justify them.

But, as Paul tells the Romans in the first reading, we are justified not on the basis of our works but through faith. Christianity is not a matter of clinging tightly to life, even eternal life, but of losing one’s grip in order to fall into God’s embrace. And we can only learn to do this when we take to heart what Jesus says about God in today’s gospel. We only learn to loosen our grip on life when we begin to realize that God is truly on our side, that even the hairs on our heads are counted… This realization comes to us not only through hearing what Jesus says, but also especially through witnessing what he does when he mounts the Cross on Calvary.

And in the martyrs whom we celebrate today, we see extreme illustrations of the awesome power of this trust in God that bears fruit in a willingness to let go. St. Isaac Jogues, for example, had returned from North America to his native France bearing the hideous marks of unbelievably cruel torture at the hands of the Indians with whom he had sought to share the Good News. His fingers were so mangled that he needed a dispensation to allow him to continue to celebrate Mass. Yet he volunteered to return to North America to continue working among the Indians there. And it was on his return trip that he won the crown of martyrdom. As Jesus did before him, St. Isaac trusted in the providence of God to the extent that he was willing to lose his grip on life.

Probably few of us will be called to the same degree of renunciation. Even so, whatever our situation, each of us is called to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, to let go of our anxieties, and to place our trust in God.

How are we being invited to do this today?


  1. Hi Chris!

    I met Fr Tom at the recollection at the seminary on Wed and asked about you. He said you won't be back for another 8 months or so. Fr Raj also said you're on tertianship. Or was it Regency. One of those, which only these Jesuit brainboxes go through. Oh well, l'll ole me was reading your contribution today, and I want to thank you again for your inspired sharings.

    I had a different take on the yeast of the Pharisees, and am presumptious enough to share it with you on this blog. But please do me a favour - don't call me a special guest lah. I'm just sharing with you and maybe a few of your friends my own musings, and with this kind of understanding, I am sure our world can grow in love and grace. Thanks for your positive contribution to our world.


    Week 28 Fri

    We have the mention of the proverbial “yeast of the Pharisees” in today’s gospel text from Luke. It appears to be like some sort of silent and dangerous enemy lurking to get us. But Jesus goes on to explain what it is – hypocrisy. What hypocrisy really is, is pretense. Somebody pretending to be someone, or having some qualities (usually good), which he or she does not really have, but appears to have. It’s a mis-matching of one’s outsides and one’s insides. This stark contrast cannot last, and cracks will show. People will know in due time the falseness in us that pretends to be truth. Why do people do this? For the simple reason of being loved and respected and looked up to. Why do people delight in appearing in the newspapers and magazines attending this function and that product launch? It panders to the ego, which needs constant massaging. But it’s not real, and it doesn’t last.

    I have a hunch why Jesus is calling it the yeast of the Pharisees. It’s got something to do with the way yeast works, and its end results. We use yeast in many recipes, and one of the most common, apart from making alcohol, is in the baking of bread. All bread that is soft to the touch like pillows are the result of yeast reacting to the sugar, releasing carbon dioxide into the dough, making it rise. So, in effect, the dough may appear larger than it is, when in fact, it’s just a lot of hot air. Pun intended.

    When there is a mismatch of our outsides and our insides, it can be the result of just that – puffed up air that really is nothing. Punch it down and it’s just the same size as before the rising.

    This kind of falseness and pride and ego massaging has a lasting and damning effect to our souls. It has the power, as Jesus says, to cast into hell. Jesus is not saying “be afraid of God, who can cast into hell”. If we read it that way, we’ve read it wrongly. Jesus is saying that ultimately, what casts us into hell is not outside of ourselves, but what is inside of us. I do not believe for one moment that a loving and merciful God wants anyone in hell. But our refusal to be true to our inner selves in love and truth, and instead insist on playing ego games with loving what is false and temporary - that is the part of us that will just cast us into hell. In fact, anyone living a lie is already in living hell.

    So, are we asked to fear God? No. In fact, Jesus closes this part of the gospel by painting a most benevolent picture of God – one who cares for us infinitely more than for cheap 5 cents 2, 10 cents 4 sparrows. He says – don’t fear him. But fear the falseness inside each one of us. And don’t give him any power. And you will live in a new kind of freedom that God’s beloved live in.

  2. Wow! Praise the Lord!!!

    We have the inspired sharings of 2 priests, a double blessing for all of us.

    Yes, yes, there is no need to fear the Lord for He knows us more than we know ourselves (with all our weaknesses, limitations, warts and what not). Admit our failings and ask for forgiveness and the strength to overcome them.

    I gather from both your sharings that we should fear instead those who do not have faith in Christ, those who do not believe or trust in Christ (like the Pharisees). And fear the hypocrites, those who appear to depend only on themselves with their pride and ego, those who think they do not need our Lord. Fear their influence as all these people will lead us to the permanent seperation from God (How dreadful...).

    Thanks for the sharings, Fathers... :)

  3. Reading this blog always make me realise that God is always with me, giving me the guidance that I need in my day to day life.

    I always feel like a salmon swimming upstream when I try to live my life as God would want me to. Whenever I feel discouraged, God will always speak to me somehow and for the past few days, it has been through this blog. Thank you Fr Chris & Fr Luke, you have brought great comfort to someone who needs it.

  4. Awesome. Thks Fr Luke for the insights. Fr Chris, why have a 'special guest' when we can have him as a regular? Two heads (and hearts and minds) are better than one and, in breaking the word, the multiplier effect is phenomenal.

    We thank God for breaking His word to us through inspired prayerful individuals, clergy, religious and lay. Amen.

  5. Reading the enlightened sharings on "leaven" and how the puffed-up self is fearful of letting go... I am reminded of another kind of leaven in the parable where the woman mixes with 3 measures of flour....and how this represents the kingdom of God growing within. This leaven is none other than the transforming love of God that is received and experienced deeply within one's being, that allows the individual to risk shedding the false self and worldly identity and be a messenger for God's transforming love to the point of losing one's life.
    Question is: How can more people experience this transforming love of God to risk change?