2 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 11-12
This is one of the longest and harshest passages by Jesus in the Gospels directed against the Pharisees. They impose heavy burdens on the poor and do not do anything to alleviate their suffering. Matthew’s community is being expelled by the religious leaders from the synagogues, and is considered suspect by the Roman authorities. The opprobrium vented against some of the Pharisees is that they have not been faithful to the Law of Moses. Matthew reminds these leaders that God gave the Law to Moses. Moses passed it on to Joshua and the elders. Joshua and the elders passed it on to the prophets, who passed it on to the Pharisees. Matthew is reminding the Pharisees and his own community that things were different in the old days. In the Book of Numbers a widow could inherit her husband’s estate. Daughters could inherit from their parents along with their brothers. The Pharisees changed this and left marriage and remarriage as the only alternatives for women.
The Rabbis in the time of Jesus used to have a saying: God cried over three things: 1.) Those who did not study the Torah and should. 2.) Those who did study the Torah and should not. 3.) Those who sought power merely to lord it over others. Some of the Pharisees did not study the Torah well enough. Some others never had a pastoral heart and should not have studied the Torah. And, most abominable is that some became experts in the Law, Pharisees, in order to use their power to abuse those entrusted to their care. Cod continues to cry over these same issues.
In Greek mythology, when Hermes wanted to establish the perfect society he went to Zeus, the greatest of the Greek gods, and asked what he needed to establish this society. Zeus gave him two things: first, Zeus gave Hermes justice, to remind people all were to be treated equally. Then Zeus gave Hermes reverence to remind the leaders that they were not gods, but should treat all citizens of this society with respect.
Two recently published books: The Kite Runner , and A Thousand Splendid Suns, are set in Afghanistan. The first is about the abuse of power by the Taliban toward their people, especially young boys. The second is about the same abuse but directed toward young women. A movie that was produced a couple of years ago, Osama, also deals with this latter issue. These works attest to the abuse of power, and lack of respect suffered by peoples throughout the world. We are reminded of the need to select good leaders, and to pray for those, both religious and the secular, that they administer their authority with justice and reverence.
Fr. Kenneth O’Malley, C.P., is archivist at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.