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?
Posted by Fr Chris at 2:40 pm