The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXIV: ”That We Should Avoid Curious Inquiry into the Affairs of Others” (second entry)
Kempis has Christ encouraging introspection here. He goes on to say that He well knows what each person has done and the state of souls — He will not be deceived. As for the true follower of Jesus, He declares: find peace by not being a “busy-body.”
|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 12:1-8
Here, Jesus and His disciples are confronted by Pharisees who find them picking and eating grain on the Sabbath, forbidden in their law. The Lord retorts immediately with the story of David and his followers who “ate the bread of offering” that only the priests could eat lawfully and then also mentioning other tasks the priests are allowed on the Sabbath without incurring guilt. Finally, Jesus declares Himself greater than any of these (“the Son of Man”) as He is “Lord of the Sabbath.”
Kempis’s words here apply perfectly to the self-righteous Pharisees who seemed constantly on the lookout for any infraction, real or perceived, among the people and especially upon this upstart preacher. In this case, we have a classic example of the “wall” these religious leaders built around the Torah (the law). The book of Exodus does forbid harvesting grain on the Sabbath but Deuteronomy differentiates harvesting from plucking. Nevertheless, the Pharisees add their own restrictions to what is in Scripture, much to the dismay of the people (no wonder His winning arguments against these men were so well received by the masses). Jesus does not hesitate to call them out for their hypocrisy time and again.
In this excerpt, in correcting the Pharisees, Jesus asks them, “Have you not read…” They certainly must have felt insulted. These were the teachers, the exemplars, of the Jewish faith! And Jesus has the temerity to ask them such a question? Well, of course, Jesus knew they had read the Scriptures many times. But going through the God’s word is far different from that same Word going through the reader. These accusers missed the loving God of mercy in focusing on the demanding God of sacrifice (they are one and the same, to be clear). In their rush to judgment they betray their lack of knowledge of Scripture (both letter and spirit) and their haughty attitude.
(As an aside, I have this humorous mental picture of Pharisees popping up from a crouch in the middle of a field to the surprise of the whole of Jesus’ band. One would think these guys would have something better to do. But it just goes to show you to what lengths they were willing to go to get “dirt” on Jesus, or to trap Him, or to try to put Him in a bad light with the people. Their time would have been put to much better use listening, praying, and revisiting the law and the prophets in light of Jesus’ teaching.)
So what about us today? Jesus’ question, “Have you not read”?, is a good starting point, I think. Like the Pharisees, we should be dedicated to reading the Bible. Unlike Jesus’ adversaries here and throughout the Gospels, we should be even more dedicated to interiorizing (a change of heart) and exteriorizing (a change of behavior) based on what we learn. When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment He said that we are to love God with all our being and love others as ourselves. We don’t do either by busying ourselves with others for the wrong reasons. From illicit curiosity regarding others’ private lives to casting judgment on their internal motivations and disposition of their souls, we should have no part in this. Calling out immoral behavior is legitimate, imputing motives is not. What is called for is mercy, Jesus tells us today. As for us, we much more productively spend our time remembering that mortal life is short and that each of us “will have to render an account of yourself.” Let that be our focus — it requires a lifetime of prayer, penance, and diligence that will keep us well occupied until the Lord comes calling.