Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
“You pay tithes … but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.”
If the scholar of the Law who interrupted Jesus’ lambasting of the Pharisees thought he would earn an apology from Jesus, he quickly realized otherwise. Contrary to modern notions of Jesus as a sort of “spiritual teddy bear”, today’s Gospel passage splashes cold water on our souls, forcing us to ask whether Jesus might speak of us in a similar manner.
However, in addition to the sober fact of Jesus’ forthright willingness to condemn those deserving condemnation, we could consider in turn each of the “woes” that Jesus articulates today. Here consider just the first.
“You pay tithes… but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.” All three of these objects of religion—tithes, judgment, and love—are due to God from human persons. They “belong” to God, we might say, each in its own manner. Why might it be that the Pharisees are willing to give the first, but not the latter two?
There certainly is a hierarchy among the three. “Love for God” is due God because “God is love”. Judgment is due God in that only He—all-loving and all-knowing—can judge truly. Tithing of materials goods such as “of mint and of rue and of every garden herb” is due God because He is the Lord of creation. Nonetheless, the ascent to God in the practice of religion involves the ascent of a staircase with many steps. The tithing of material goods is one of the lower steps, and the Pharisees are content to rest there. This step is meant to lead us further upwards: closer to God, towards a higher share in God’s divine nature.