Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew’s gospel shows Jesus beginning his first public discourse with eight beatitudes and his last discourse with seven woes. The beatitudes, of course, indicate the rewards Jesus’ followers will receive and the woes, the punishments his enemies will undergo. There are also contrasts among the beatitudes and the woes. Today’s gospel passage relates the fourth and fifth woes which we can contrast to the fourth and sixth beatitudes.
Where Jesus considered those who hunger and thirst for righteousness “happy” or “blessed,” he now sees those who neglect judgment and mercy and fidelity as deserving “woe.” The latter are the kind of people who attend to the letter of the law or, as he puts it, “tithes on mint and dill and cumin” but avoid keeping its spirit which is that they become fair and compassionate. A number of years ago a church finance officer, whose co-workers considered him the model of trustworthiness, embezzled hundred of thousands of dollars from the diocese he worked for. This thief exemplifies the hypocrisy that Jesus criticizes here.
While the scribes and Pharisee keep up a good façade – “the outside of cup and dish,” what lies behind the scene – “the inside” -- is sheer wickedness. As much as this is the case, the perpetrators merit Jesus’ woe. His disciples, on the other hand, strive to be “pure of heart” which means to desire inwardly what is worthy of God, especially in sexual matters. It is a life-long struggle, to be sure, but worth the effort. It promises not only honest, caring relationships on earth life but the beatific vision in eternity.