Lectio Divina: Matthew 23:13-22
1) Opening prayer
help us to seek the values
that will bring us enduring joy in this changing world.
In our desire for what You promise
make us one in mind and heart.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 23:13-22
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.' Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, 'If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.' You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it."
• During the next three days, we will meditate on the discourse in which Jesus criticizes the doctors of the law and the Pharisees, calling them hypocrites. In today’s Gospel (Mt 23:13-22), Jesus uses the expression “Alas for you...” (Mt 23:23-26) four times, and in the Gospel of the day after tomorrow, He uses this same expression twice more (Mt 23: 27-32). These are condemnatory words, very hard words, against the religious leaders of the times. In pondering them, I should not only think of the doctors and the Pharisees of the time of Jesus, but also, and above all, of the hypocrisy found in me, in us, in our family, in the community, in our Church, in today’s society. Let us look into the mirror of the text to discover the errors in ourselves.
• Matthew 23:13: The first “Alas for you...” against those who close the door of the Kingdom because in this way you will not enter and, you do not even let those who want to enter. How do they lock people out of the Kingdom? They do it by presenting God as a severe judge, leaving very little space for the mercy of God; by imposing, in the name of God, laws and norms which have nothing to do with the commandments of God, by presenting a false image of the Kingdom and by killing the desire to serve God and the Kingdom. A community which organizes itself around this false god “does not enter into the Kingdom,” and it is not even an expression of the Kingdom and prevents its members from entering into the Kingdom.
• Matthew 23:14: The second “Alas for you...” is against those who use religion to enrich themselves. You devour the property of widows, though you make a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence you receive because of this.” Jesus allows the disciples to live the Gospel, because He says that the laborer has the right to his salary (Lk 10:7; cf. 1 Cor 9:13-14), but to use prayer and religion as a means to enrich themselves, that is hypocrisy and does not reveal the Good News of God. It transforms religion into a market. Jesus drives out the merchants from the Temple (Mk 11:15-19) quoting the prophet Jeremiah: “My house will be called a House of Prayer for all people; but you have turned it into a bandits’ den!” (Mk 11: 17; cf. Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11). When Simon the magician wanted to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter curses him (Acts 8:18-24). Simon received the “most severe condemnation” which Jesus speaks about in the Gospel today.
• Matthew 23:15: The third expression of “Alas for you...” is against those who proselytize. “You travel over sea and land to make a single convert, and anyone who becomes one you make twice as fit for hell as you are.” There are people who become missionaries and proclaim the Gospel not to radiate the Good News, but to attract people for their group and their church. John once prohibited a person from using the name of Jesus because he was not part of His group. Jesus answered, “Do not stop him, because anyone who is not against us is for us (Mk 9:39). The document of the Plenary Assembly of the Bishops of Latin America, which was held in March 2008 in Aparecida, Brazil, bears the title: “Disciples and Missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that our people may have life in Him”. That is to say,, the purpose of the mission is not to work in such a way that people become Catholic, but rather that people may have life, and life in abundance.
• Matthew 23:16-22: The fourth “Alas for you...” is aimed at those who swear. “You say, ‘if anyone swears by the Temple, it has no force, but anyone who swears by the gold of the Temple is bound’. Jesus makes a long disquisition to show the flaws in so many oaths that people made or that the official religion ordered people to take: to swear by the gold of the Temple or by the offering which was on the altar. The teaching of Jesus given in the Sermon on the Mount is the best commentary on today’s Gospel: “But I tell you do not swear at all, either by heaven since that is God’s throne, or by earth, since that is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is ‘Yes’ if you mean ‘yes’, ‘No’ if you mean ‘No’; anything more than this comes from the Evil One” (Mt 5:34-37).
4) Personal questions
• “Alas for you...” is said four times: four reasons to receive severe criticism from Jesus. Which of these four criticisms refers to me?
• Does our Church today deserve these “Alas for you...” from Jesus?
5) Concluding Prayer
Sing a new song to Yahweh!
Sing to Yahweh, all the earth!
Sing to Yahweh, bless His name!
Proclaim His salvation day after day. (Ps 96:1-2)