23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
"He took him off by himself away from the crowd." (Mk 7:31-37)
Pope Francis delivered a provocative message on hypocrites in the Church to his Wednesday weekly audience on August 25, 2021. He reflected on the Book of Galatians and how Paul admonished Peter. When recalling that incident, Pope Francis noted that Paul was upset that Peter's behavior was not truthful. Further, the Pope shared his opinion of a hypocrite. "A hypocrite is afraid of the truth. It is better to pretend rather than be yourself. It is like putting makeup on the soul, like putting makeup on your behavior, putting makeup on how to proceed: this is not the truth." Pope Francis is concerned over pretending ministers who are hypocritical, failing to speak the truth in love.
Later in this same article, we are asked to read Matthew's Gospel (23:13-29). Matthew contains an extensive narrative by Jesus on hypocrisy exhibited by the leaders of the Church during biblical times. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and other temple leaders show egregious behavior preventing true believers from entering the Kingdom of God. Pope Francis also added, "Hypocrisy in the Church is particularly detestable; and unfortunately, hypocrisy exists in the Church and there are many hypocritical Christians and ministers." These words are disheartening and challenging for contemporary Christians. However, Pope Francis aroused my spirit when saying, "a hypocrite does not know how to love."
True love does require a genuine act of service towards the other. The Church is faltering in this area, which is perhaps the main reason many people feel betrayed by the Church. If the Church is not loving, we will continue to decline Church in attendance and financial support. Of course, some ministers will give you the shirt off their backs. They actualize the wisdom from our second reading today, "[showing] no partiality [adhereing] to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ" (Ja. 2:1). These ministers will do anything and everything to unite the unchurch to the Body of Christ.
Simultaneously, ministers embedded in the Church stumble in loving their neighbor and God with their soul, mind, and strength. John's epistle said that "If anyone says, "I love God," but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). John's teaching guides us to love our neighbor before loving God. This means offering salvation to all humanity, regardless of race, class, economics, or gender. We must be intentional in loving one another. We must stop playing games.
My prayer is that Jesus will move us away from those individuals in our lives that mask their true feelings. We need the spirit of discernment to build a network of friends who will help us love our neighbor as God has loved us. Many people these days speak with angelic voices, only in the end to resemble a clashing cymbal. These angelic voices are playing games; they are troublesome.
Today's Gospel said, "He took him off by himself away from the crowd." This crowd was a distraction. Maybe there were hypocrites in the group chasing after another miracle by Jesus. Did they care about the man with Jesus? One can only wonder why Jesus separated the man from the group. The point is, Jesus had His reason. There are times when we must be alone with Jesus to experience true love. Jesus gave true love by healing this man without cause, other than he was a child of God.
However, something intriguing happens at the end of this story. Mark's Gospel said, "He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak." While this comment is admirable, the group's response is unusual. The crowd appeared captivated by Jesus' action rather than offering thanksgiving. They knew Jesus was capable of performing wondrous deeds, which is why they asked Jesus to lay hands on the deaf man. And yet, mesmerized by Jesus' actions, the crowd failed to recognize the love of God.
In the end, when God heals you, don't be a hypocrite and only praise God when there is a miracle in your life. Be open to praise God at all times; fill your heart with thanksgiving, and truly love your neighbor. Ultimately, we, too, are called to witness to those who are hypocritical. We must love them into the Kingdom of God. Can we do this?
Let us pray that all Church leaders will love their neighbors and God with their souls, minds, and strength, Truthfully.
Jesus put your finger in the Church's ear. Ephpahtha - that is, "Be opened."
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Author: Evangelist Michael P. Howard, MACS