Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
There is something naturally attractive about the downfall of celebrities. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen” is an expression that captures that part of our psyche that is interested in the failures of people who typically succeed. Jesus understood this aspect of human psychology, and used it to great effect. He often criticized the scribes and the Pharisees, sometimes quite severely, and “the great crowd heard this with delight” (Mk 12:37). We don’t experience much delight today as we read these passages, but, rather fear that the condemnations leveled by Jesus against the scribes and the Pharisees might also fall upon us.
For example: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean” (Mt 23:25-26). If we pretend to be something we are not, we are guilty of hypocrisy. Following Christ’s distinction between internal states and external states, we cannot let ourselves be satisfied with external goodness only. We must strive for interior goodness, submitting ourselves to a process of purgation. In this case, we must become free from internal “plunder and self-indulgence.” Plunder is property dishonestly and violently acquired. Self-indulgence is the excessive satisfying of our own appetites and desires.
St. Paul, I believe, took these warnings to heart, and became a model for us of someone who cleaned both the inside and the outside of the cup. His lack of plunder and self-indulgence can be seen from his first letter to the Thessalonians. “Nor, indeed, did we ever appear with flattering speech, as you know, or with a pretext for greed–God is witness–nor did we seek praise from men, either from you or from others, although we were able to impose our weight as Apostles of Christ. Rather, we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us” (1 Thess 2:5-8).