It occurs to me upon reading this Gospel passage out of context that, just maybe, Jesus became frustrated when people didn’t understand what he tried so hard to tell them. Maybe he was particularly frustrated with the people who should have known better: the educated people, the ones entrusted with leadership in the faith.
That’s me. I don’t have a PhD in theology, and I’m not ordained, but I am entrusted with leadership in the faith through music ministry, a role I have because of my education and formation in ministry. Here’s what I hear in the readings today.
First, I hear “pay attention to your interior as well as exterior life of faith.” I looked at yesterday’s Gospel for context, where Jesus said, “You [Pharisees] tithes of mint and rue and every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. These you should have done, without overlooking the others” (Luke 11:42). Today’s Gospel focuses more on what the scribes and pharisees forgot because they “paid no attention.” I need frequent reminders to cultivate my interior life of faith through private prayer, since I spend so much time is spent on the exterior communal practice of faith in my work. Many people I know outside of ministry circles need reminders that it is okay and even helpful to practice faith in a tangible, communal, ritual way. Both are important. I am incarnate, bodily – exterior practices affect my spirit and my faith. Practicing faithfulness by showing up to God even when I don’t feel like it, whether privately or in communal prayer or service, keeps me engaged in my faith.
Sometimes my friends who were raised Catholic but don’t practice their faith as adults describe me as “very Catholic.” I always bristle at that. I may practice more often or more visibly, and I may be more comfortable talking about my faith than they are, but I am not “more baptized” or “more confirmed” than they are. Exterior practice is not an “occasion for boasting,” as St. Paul says in today’s first reading. It can cultivate, but not replace, a relationship with God. It is also the result of a relationship with God: the more I love God, the more I am drawn to service of God’s people. We’re all in the same boat (I hope) as Church, navigating relationship with God both personally and as a people, for “God is one.”
Secondly, I hear “tell the whole story.” Jesus says, “You [Scholars] bear witness and give consent to the deeds of your ancestors, for they killed [the prophets] and you do the building [of their memorials]. … You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter” (Luke 11:48, 52). I can’t help but think of the recent movements to remove statues of historical figures from public places because they seem to condone the oppressive actions of their subjects. The statues don’t tell the whole story. They memorialize a rosy version of history for the dominant (white) culture. We are only beginning to learn how to tell the whole story of our country.
Today’s readings raise some questions for me. What information do I want to control? What truth would I rather avoid? And, in what ways is God inviting me to enter into interior and exterior practices of faith so that our relationship may grow?