Anne O’Brien, Director of Mission at St Agnes’ Catholic Parish, reads from the Gospel of Luke (11: 42-46) in which Jesus says to the Pharisees and lawyers, ‘Alas for you, because you load on people burdens that are unendurable; burdens that you yourselves do not move a finger to lift’.Reflecting on the Gospel, Anne asks, how would you react if someone described you as an unmarked tomb, which people walk over without knowing it? You would probably be unhappy and might retaliate with an equally negative statement. Normally, you would go along with someone who makes you feel good about yourself, rather than anyone whose words cause you to see yourself as worthless and unwelcome. It’s easy to see why the Pharisees, lawyers and scribes weren’t Jesus’ greatest fans. In today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t hold back on his criticism. Some translations have Jesus describe his opposition as ‘whitened sepulchre’: tombs that looked good on the outside and were full of rottenness inside. ‘Unmarked tombs’ suggest that people mightn’t even consider their leaders as worth remembering. Anne wonders why Jesus was so scathing; His opponents had a high opinion of themselves and looked down on everybody else. That’s why Jesus had no time for them. They overburdened others, weighing them down with legislation that was unreasonable and impossible to obey. They painted non-compliant people as failures and didn’t lead them closer at all to a loving God. Good laws encourage freedom, transparency, openness and understanding. The legalism of Jesus’ critics was merciless, discouraging and restrictive. It didn’t lead to celebration or to an experience of God’s closeness and care. Anne says Jesus’ real complaint was that the Pharisees, lawyers and scribes had lost sight of God’s law of love. They had abandoned their personal integrity in favour of their public image. Where do we stand on that score? Do we worry more about our public image and forget about the importance God places on love and care for others? In closing Anne invites us to join in this prayer: Lord of life and love, let me never put myself on a pedestal to the detriment of other people. Let me give them hope and encouragement. Let me be like you. Amen.
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