Authentic Religious Witnessing
Readings: 1st: Gal 5:18-25; Ps: 1; Gos: Lk 11: 37-41
This brief reflection was written by Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans). He is a missionary in Puerto Rico. He is the Parish Priest of Parroquia la Resurrección del Senor, Canóvanas, and the Major Superior of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans), Circumscription of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. He was the chancellor of the Diocese of Fajardo Humacao, Puerto Rico. Fr. Canice is a member of the Academy of Homiletics. For more details and comments contact him at:
Last Sunday, at the Atlanta airport, while walking towards gate A29 for my final flight to STL, I saw two tall “religious men” vested in peach-stone black cassocks with clerical collars to fit. My first reaction was, whoa; these are courageous men amid all the secularism and, despite how society looks at “church religious men and women” today dressed in long clerical robes. Indeed, these must be courageous witnesses.
However, there was another image, that of clericalism which also provoked questions. Must they wear cassocks at the airport? Did it matter to them? Are they authentic? What do people think about them?
In today’s gospel, Christ showed great displeasure against the lifestyle of the Jewish authorities. “Woe to you, Pharisees! Woe also to you, scholars of the law! You impose burdens hard to carry on people, but you do not lift one finger to touch them.” Also, he accused them: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the seat of Moses” (Mt 23:2-3). “You love the seat of honor in synagogues” (Luke 11: 42-44).
At times, the mention of the Pharisees and Scribes always bring to mind the image of tall men in long cassock and possibly with long bears and carrying the Torah. Another image it provokes is that of “distancing and separation.” That is, “they are there!”
Fellow religious, today’s gospel provokes important questions that we must all be prepared to answer if we are to witness Christ authentically to our brothers and sisters. Why was Christ so displeased to the point of cursing the authorities? What image comes to mind when we hear Pharisees, Sadducees, or Scribes? Who are the present-day Pharisees and Scribes?
The Scribes and the Pharisees are associated because almost all scribes were of the sect of Pharisees. The scribes, the Jewish scholars, the theologians, and lawyers, would naturally be of the religious sect. Hence, Jesus’ polemic against the Pharisees and Sadducees, ‘hypocrites,’ is noteworthy. Christ criticizes the lack of coherence between their words and actions and their interior and exterior life.
He scolded them for their failure to practice Judaism sincerely, guide others to live Judaism correctly, interpret the scriptures, and attend to the central principles of the law and the Jewish way of life. They are negative examples of how a community leader should act. Furthermore, they are contrasted with Christian leaders who should be characterized by lowliness (Mt 23: 4-12).
My fellow religious, there is much we can learn from today’s reading. One point is evident here, the insincerity and the double life of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They present a false image of themselves. This is Christ’s definition of hypocrisy. So, Christ’s action today first demonstrates and reminds us of how to speak truth to power and authority. He was not afraid to confront injustice and falsehood. So, we must speak out rather than remain silent while injustice and falsehood thrive. This is an integral part of our prophetic ministry.
Second, far from Christ hating the Scribes and the Pharisees, as many of us think. Instead, he calls them to be true to their exalted position. He loves them dearly as he loves you and me. However, he condemned their actions and challenged them to see how their way of life impacted negatively on their subjects.
My fellow Religious, much as Christ is loving, patient, and kind, he desires that we do what is just and live sincerely. Hence, today, Christ also calls us all to a personal reflection of our life and ministry. How authentic are we, my fellow religious (Pastors, Deacons, Directors, Theologians, etc.), who occupy these important and exulted positions in our church?
A life that pleases God is that which is lived in the Spirit (Gal 5: 25), with an adequate and corresponding physical manifestation. So, we must not live a false or double life. This is because it affects others negatively. Our actions must match our words and reflect who we are and represent.
Finally, fellow Religious, Christ calls us all who occupy important positions in the church to be mindful of our ways and actions. He calls us religious men and women to be mindful of being overtly clerical while also being mindful of extreme secularism. Most importantly, he calls us to be authentic witnesses to our brothers and sisters. If we do, surely, there will be no woes, but blessings for us!
Peace be with you all.
 “The Pharisees of our Present-day Religion: Contextualizing Mt 23:2-3.” In Canice C. Njoku. “Important Themes in Biblical Theology.” Christian Faith Publishing, Pittsburg. 2019. Chp.2. https://www.amazon.com/Important-Themes-Biblical-Theology-Canice/dp/1098002644. Also, see, Homily for Wednesday, XXVIII Week of Ordinary Time, Year A. https://frcanicenjoku.com/2020/10/14/wednesday-xxvii-week-of-ordinary-time-year-a-2/