By Father John P. Cush, STD
The exhortation that the Lord Jesus issues in the Gospel we proclaim today is no doubt one that is familiar to each and every one of us. The Pharisees, those teachers of the law, are attempting to succeed where the Sadducees failed in tripping up the Lord. Slyly, they pose a question which would be no doubt controversial. Like a press conference gone awry, these “blind guides,” as Our Lord describes them elsewhere in the Gospel, ask a question most likely not because they genuinely wish to know the answer, but simply to make the Lord look foolish, to appear to be someone who is not faithful to the orthodox teaching of Judaism and thus to prove him to obviously not be the Messiah.
Jesus, this carpenter from Nazareth, is gaining too much popularity and fame among the masses and needs to be taken down a peg or two. Recall that this is the third attempt in a row by outside groups to make he who is Wisdom himself look bad — first, the Herodians, those “groupies” of King Herod, and the Pharisees try to ensnare the Lord in a political question: should you be loyal to Caesar or not? (Mt 22:15-17); next, the Sadducees try mightily to get the Lord into the “heretic” camp by asking Jesus to weigh in on the resurrection of the dead, an issue which divided the Jews of the Lord’s time period mightily; finally, we come to this last attempt to “get him,” on the issue of the “greatest commandment.”
Recall that Jesus is God and, as such, can neither deceive nor be deceived, and, as we will see in the next section of this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, soon turns the tables, begins to ask them questions, and then, shamefacedly, they retreat, only to wait for their next opportunity to pounce on him. And, as we know, they simply will not give up until they have he who is truth, goodness, beauty, and love incarnate, the only truly innocent one hanging on a cross until his life’s last breath is given.
With this in mind, especially in this annus horribilis of 2020, where we have seen the best of humanity and the worst, when a virus has taken the lives of countless loved ones, where protests have become riots, where our political discourse on all sides of all issues have become so tumultuous, so ad hominem, so personal, and civil discourse is so hard to find in the Church, in the Nation, and in the world, we might wish to ask ourselves a question about the how and why we ask questions.
This question about questions is ultimately pretty simple — do we ask questions, engage in discourse and discussion on social media and in-person with our friends (and with our enemies) for the sake of clarity, for the sake of learning the opinions of others and why they might hold these opinions, or do we do it to trip the other up, to hammer home our point, to verbally “beat down” those who might disagree with us?
Have we, as a Catholic Christian people, men and women marked by the sign of faith, incorporated into the Body of Christ by the sacrament of baptism, lost the ability to dialogue with each other? Certainly, there are issues where there can be no great debate any longer — issues which the Church, as mother and teacher have clarified in faith and morals, but can we have civil discourse on other issues? Does Catholic Twitter have to be so vile, with both conservative and liberal websites failing ultimately to follow the Lord’s direct imperative to love our neighbor as we do ourselves?
This week, pray for the gifts of justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude, those cardinal virtues, so that we don’t act like those opponents of Our Lord in the Gospel, but instead, filled with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and, above all, charity, we can bring light into all of our discussions.
Readings for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5C-10
Father Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College, Rome.