Memorial of Saint Monica
(I Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 23:23-26)
The man said he was an atheist. He added his reason. He said that religion has been at the center of so many wars that he could no longer believe in God. Of course, he was overlooking the overwhelming amount of physical assistance that faith-filled people have provided. He also might have thought for a moment about the destruction wrought by godless Communists and Nazis. Yet Jesus in today’s gospel makes a similar criticism of religious opportunists.
Jesus is disturbed by people who use religion to benefit themselves. Evidently a considerable number of Pharisees and scribes (i.e., teachers of the Law) distort Judaism in this way. Rather than emphasize the prophets’ call to compassion, they exploit the Law’s rules for their own benefit. Their exploitation especially targets the poor.
We have a double duty in regard to those who profit by religion. We should resist them by standing firm with Jesus, the poor man and the pacifist. He shows little patience with those who would burden others for their own benefit. We also have to avoid an excessively harsh criticism of religion. People have used it over the centuries to cause trouble. But even events like the Crusades have to be analyzed in their historical contexts. Much more characteristic of religious belief have been institutions dispensing charity to those in need.