Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Popes)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law in how they propagated and practiced their faith, and He also rebuked them for their behaviour and in how they oppressed and misguided the people of God with their way of observing the commandments of the Lord.
He criticised them using the example of a cup and a dish, which He compared to the Pharisees as those who have cleansed the outside of the cup and the dish so that they looked good and clean to those who saw them, but leave the insides dirty and unwashed. It does not make sense at all, since if we have a cup or a plate, we are using the inside and not the outside. They may appear good from the outside, but if the inside is dirty, then what use will they have?
What Jesus used as a comparison today is a comparison of our own beings, like what He had told the people about the Pharisees, the elders and the teachers of the Law. These people were the elites in their society, and they often walked around proudly, proud of their status and their influence in the governance over the people. They wore their vestments as the symbol of their superiority, and they often looked down on others.
They prayed loudly and with gestures in order to be seen by the people, and they had no qualms to criticise those who did not follow their ways and teachings, as mistaken and misguided as they were. And they were adamantly unrepentant of their behaviours, forcing the people to accept their way of observing the Law of God, focusing solely on the outward appearances, on the menial matters even such as washing of the hands and feet, the way to do them properly to the smallest details, the imposition of no work during the Sabbath days and others.
But in their hearts, in truth, they did not have God in them. They were so full of themselves that God did not take any priority for them. They always tried to bring themselves to the fore of the society, despising all those whom they considered as threats to their power and influence. And that is why, if you are wondering why these Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who were supposed to be intelligent and the most educated especially about the laws and ways of the Lord, were to refuse Jesus when He came to this world.
Human ambitions and greed can indeed be very dangerous, and very powerful at the same time. Just as what we heard today in the Epistle that St. Paul wrote to the faithful in Galatia, where he rebuked those who pretended to be righteous and just in their ways, and yet in reality, they have fallen further and further away from the Lord and His salvation. They have only obeyed the Lord in their exterior application, but inside they remain rotten and unchanged.
That is why we should follow the example of the holy saint, Pope St. John XXIII, one of the Popes of the last century, whose life has been exemplary in his faith and dedication to the Lord. Through him we can see the example of how the faithful ought to live their faith, and be thoroughly devoted of their ways to the Lord both in their exterior and interior, and not just their exterior as what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done.
Pope St. John XXIII was born as Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the son of a poor farmer in a poor family in the northern region of Italy. At that time, life was simple and hard for him and for his relatives. His father wanted him and his siblings to continue his work as farmers, but with the help of a relative, Angelo Roncalli was able to attain education in a seminary in the nearby town, where gradually he felt the calling of the Lord.
Even though his father initially refused to allow him to become a priest, but eventually with some help, he was able to make it and thus he became a priest of the Lord, serving the poor and caring for the people, both spiritually and in material terms. In one occasion, when there was a riot in the diocese where he was serving as a priest, due to the unfair labour laws, Angelo Roncalli helped his local ordinary, the bishop who was supportive of his flock and calling for greater equality and fairer treatment of the workers.
He was then appointed as the Papal representative to Bulgaria, where he became one of its first Apostolic Delegate, caring for the people of the faith who lived there, and became the representative of the Vicar of Christ to them. Many did not welcome him as he was representing the authority of the Roman Church, while many Bulgarians belonged to the separatist Eastern Orthodox churches. However, through his persistence and many charitable works, including helping out when a major earthquake struck the country won him many people’s support.
Even in his later works as the Apostolic Delegate to Greece and Turkey, the future Pope St. John XXIII helped many people, including the Jews who suffered under the NAZI Germany rule, where on one occasion it was told that he helped many Jews to escape by persuading the German soldiers and commanders that the train did not carry Jews but instead pilgrims to Turkey.
Eventually he was elected to be the leader of the Universal Church, and there were even more good things he had done in leading the faithful people of God, helping to reduce the Cold War tension between the superpowers which at that time was at the breaking point due to what happened in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. He wrote and published the Papal Encyclical ‘Pacem in Terris’ dedicated t world peace. He also convened the Second Vatican Council to address some unfinished issues in the Church.
In the end, looking at the examples that Pope St. John XXIII and the many other holy saints and people of God had done, we ourselves should be inspired to follow in their footsteps and do the same. We should not be like the Pharisees whose faith are for appearances only, but instead, we should practice what we believe through our own actions. May the Lord help us to be more devoted to Him, and may He bless us in all that we do, that we may receive glory with Him at the end of our days with the glorious saints. God bless us all. Amen.