Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, the second-century Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher wrote on his Meditations: "Look beneath the surface; let not the several qualities of a thing nor its worth escape thee." Such a philosophical statement expands the theological meaning of today’s scripture readings, which advise us against the superficiality of a self-righteous attitude that could make us "hold [God’s] priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience in low esteem, unaware that the kindness of God would lead [us] to repentance." We are indeed advised against a hypocritical behavior that could compromise our life-giving relationship with God and the church by simply judging "those who engage in such things and yet do them [ourselves]," just as the Pharisees and the scholars of the law did it and thus subjected themselves to the inescapable woes of Jesus.
The Pharisees and the scholars of the law had indeed overlooked the priceless meaning and purpose of the law and the prophets, which Jesus did not abolish but fulfilled by affirming them in their God-given meaning and purpose of kindness, forbearance, patience, and above all mercy and forgiveness. It was for all these graces that God gave us the Law and the Prophets, so that they could lead us to repentance and conversion and thus help us find our redemption and salvation in Our Lord Jesus Christ. No wonder Jesus admonishes the Pharisees and the scholars of the law, as he tells them that they should have paid special "attention to judgment and to love for God" without overlooking their paying of "tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb." For the former decree and duty of the law is far more important than the latter, because "only in God is my soul at rest; from him comes my salvation," as the Psalmist proclaims.
Today’s scripture readings therefore invite us to focus, not on our sins and their lethal spiritual effects, but on the life-giving grace and love of God, who shows us mercy and forgives us every time we return to him with a contrite, humble heart that allows us to treasure his priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience above all things. This is the promise of hope and salvation that God has given us in Christ Jesus, in whose Holy Spirit rests our soul and finds its peace. In such a spirit of trust and confidence in God’s mercy, let us bear one another’s shortcomings and hardships with fraternal love and patience, because a judgmental or indifferent attitude would only subject us to the unavoidable woes that Jesus proclaims to his adversaries. Thus, let us pray for one another, so that we become recipients of Jesus’ evangelical beatitudes and graces, as we strive to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.
Fr. Alfredo Ocampo, C.P. gives retreats and parish missions. He is stationed at Holy Name Passionist Community in Houston, Texas.