“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.”
This week Jesus has some words with hard edges, not only for the scribes and Pharisees but also for us.
The woes are pronounced seven times — a symbolic fullness of woes — to the scribes and Pharisees. There are so many of them that it takes three days’ worth of Gospel readings to get through them.
But, lest we think that the scribes and Pharisees are on the hook and we’re not, this week’s readings also include two hard parables about the kingdom that are clearly addressed to all of us.
In the first parable, we’re told that those who were prepared for the bridegroom’s arrival went into the wedding feast with him, “and then the door was locked.” When those who were unprepared came later and asked for entry, the master said to them: “I do not know you.” Hard words.
In the second parable, after rewarding the servants who faithfully put their talents to work, the master upbraids the one who didn’t: “You wicked, lazy servant!” Then he says: “Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” Hard words again.
Jesus is passionately interested in our salvation, and His words and tone are always pitched just right to help us toward that end. Sometimes His words are gentle, because He invites everyone to the kingdom and truly wants everyone to accept His offer. But sometimes His words have hard edges, because our lives need to have some hard edges if we’re going to accept His offer. The time comes when the doors to the kingdom are locked! And the truth is that some actions block our entry into the kingdom — not because Jesus withdraws the offer, but because our actions signify that we refuse to accept it.
We tend to gloss over the hard words of Jesus. Likewise, we tend to gloss over the hard edges we sometimes need to have in our lives to accept His offer of salvation. But there are hard edges in His words. And there need to be some hard edges in our lives — things we always do because we follow Him, and things we never do because we follow Him.
Jesus is love Incarnate. But He’s not a teddy bear. Sometimes love speaks with hard edges, because some actions block the way to the kingdom. Jesus passionately warns us about such actions. Can such actions be forgiven? Yes. We have it on Jesus’ authority that the apostles and their successors received the power to forgive sins. But when we deny that they even need to be forgiven, when we claim that “it’s all good,” we block our own entry into the kingdom, and we place obstacles in the way of others. That’s when Jesus has sharp words, not only for the scribes and Pharisees but for all of us.
Let’s be attentive to both the gentle and the sharp words of Jesus, and pray for greater fidelity to the hard edges required in our lives if we’re going to follow Him.