Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time [Year A]
Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel passage might seem harsh. We might say that He’s calling a spade a spade. He describes the Pharisees as “blind guides of the blind”. Regarding precepts that the Pharisees had commanded, Jesus states: “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”
Jesus is making a distinction here between commands that are divine in origin and those that are human in origin. A slightly different distinction that might be made is between commands that are of permanent duration and those that are temporary because they are circumstantial.
We’re familiar with such distinctions in the world around us. For example, the command against murder is objective in nature and may not be transgressed by any person or “repealed” by any court of legislature. However, a traffic sign stating that the speed limit on a ten-block stretch of road is 35 mph may be changed by a local authority if a good reason arises.
Although Jesus speaks harshly about the Pharisees, we cannot assume that originally there may not have been good reasons for the commands that the Pharisees taught. However, Jesus’ words make it apparent that the commands no longer had purpose and ought not to be followed.
Within the life of Jesus’ Church, there is a similar principle at work. Jesus speaks to this principle when He says to St. Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (this passage will be proclaimed at Mass this Thursday). Jesus is not speaking here about rules concerning such things as murder or the nature of marriage. But He is giving Peter – and his successors – wide latitude in making changes for the sake of a Church whose mission already has spanned twenty centuries and every continent of the earth. Yet regarding rules that may be changed, the Holy Spirit’s guidance is needed to ask whether rules ought to be changed, or in other words whether they continue to guide Jesus’ disciples along His Way.