The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLIII: “Against Futile and Worldly Learning” (second entry)
Kempis has Christ once again emphasizing the need for humility; in this case, this virtue opens up the heart more so than the mind to “eternal truth.” Book learning, without the proper disposition, and without appeal to the Spirit of truth for understanding, ultimately is an exercise in futility, at best leading to frustration, at worst plunging to error.
|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 9:9-13
For today’s Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, it is appropriate that we hear of the writer’s own, albeit brief, account of his calling by Jesus. The Lord once again uses this event as a teaching opportunity for His unrelenting antagonists, the Pharisees. Upon seeing Jesus later that day at the house of the tax collector, and thus Jewish pariah, Matthew, and eating with others of his ilk, these religious leaders call out Jesus for dining with tax collectors and sinners — in one of their homes, no less! Jesus, in turn, points them back to the book to which they claim special expertise, the Scriptures, for their lesson for today (seen in the headline). In closing, Jesus tells these self-righteous men that He has “not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
God has elevated brilliant intellectuals as well as the simplest of minds to the heights of heavenly contemplation. The one virtue that connects the two and everyone so disposed along this spectrum: humility. Conversely, the prideful, no matter how great their natural power of learning, will always fall short, and will often fall into error, due to an arrogance that leads them to the conclusion that they can plumb the depths of religion without divine assistance. It is a temptation from the devil himself who convinced our first parents that they knew better than God what was good and what was evil. So, too, many Pharisees, claiming to be Scripture scholars, and unhesitatingly directing the people regarding their way of life, are taught in five words of Jesus’ likely more than all of their learning to that point. Will they take His advice. Hopefully some did. But most were undeterred, or at best silent, as the persecution of Jesus (without mercy) would continue to His death and beyond with their antagonism toward the Body of Christ, the Church.
Jesus “did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” That’s all of us. So, like EF Hutton, when He talks, we better listen in all humility to the simple, profound, and challenging words of the Master.