“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside,
But inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.” -Matthew 23:27
Harsh words. They conclude the litany of denunciation Jesus addresses to the scribes and Pharisees in chapter 23 of Matthew. It’s tempting to read these words and think of all those we consider to be hypocritical “scribes and Pharisees” today. Given the extreme polarization we’re experiencing as a country right now, I imagine each of us is likely considered part of this category by someone!
So that got me thinking… “How am I like a whitewashed tomb? What kind of dead bones am I carrying inside myself?” I thought of a recent conversation.
The Passionists of Holy Cross Province are currently crafting a statement on cultural and racial diversity to offer guidance and development to Province ministries. Naturally, diverse members of the Passionist family are being consulted in this process. My sense, along with most of my white colleagues, was that this statement will help move us toward an inclusive multi-cultural and racially diverse Passionist family. And then, it was gently pointed out by a Passionist of color that we already are a multi-cultural and racially diverse Province. When we genuinely affirm this, he observed, the question becomes “How does this reality call us to conversion and change as a Province?”
In a moment, I was aware—once again—of the narrow focus I have, simply from being a member of the dominant culture. It was like a light went on in the tomb, illuminating the dead bones. And God’s words in Ezekiel 37 echoed in my ears: “Prophesy over these bones, say to them ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord, ‘I will put my Spirit into you so that you may come to life.’”
Today’s psalm assures us that there is nowhere we can flee from the Lord, even in the darkness of our inner tomb, amidst the dead bones. God’s hand is always guiding us, holding us fast, night shining as day (Ps 139). My work is to say “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” And to open to the movement of God’s word within me, to allow my narrow focus to be stretched wide by the Spirit.
When we do, we can surely trust in the words of 1 Thessalonians: “the Word of God is now at work in [us] who believe.”
Lissa Romell is the Administrator at St. Vincent Strambi Community in Chicago, Illinois.