Righteous – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 11:42-46, Wednesday of Week 28 in Ordinary Time

I’m sure you’ve noticed in the Gospels that Jesus was much kinder to prostitutes and tax collectors than to Pharisees and teachers of the law. I don’t believe for one second that Jesus condoned prostitutes and tax collectors. He precisely tried to turn them around when he socialized with them. Because when you have sold yourself out for money—whether it be your body or your principles—then you have settled for corruption and decay, the lowest point in your life. But Jesus still saw something worth saving in them. On the other hand, the religious authorities were very, very sure of their righteousness. The Gospels also sound like they seemed to parade this righteousness, to flaunt their purity, their good standing with God. In my crazy Jesuit head, I imagine Pharisaic self-righteousness like how the Iglesia ni Kristo criticizes Catholics endlessly on TV, or how Donald Trump says, “Nobody treats women better than I can,” or how some of the priests in EWTN can be biblically brutal with separated couples or women who have had abortions—but they just do so in a gentle, modulated, warmly microphoned voice.

Unfortunately, the religious authorities couldn’t hide anything from Jesus. He was onto them. Their self-praise was counter-productive because it exposed their corruption and decay. Jesus knew that under those bleached robes festered the very moral decadence they rallied against so furiously; “unseen graves,” the Gospel says, “over which people unknowingly walk.”

As early as novitiate, our formators taught us: “Watch out for your reactive behavior patterns. If there someone constantly triggers a negative reaction from you, but not from other people—which means, if your reaction is disproportionate—chances are, you just might have that same attitude or behavior they have, you’re just not conscious of it.” We have a funny Tagalog expression for that, “Ang magnanakaw, galit sa kapwa magnanakaw.” We know how true this is, don’t we, we who have lived long enough in communities? Like a brother, for example, who goes into an eloquent tantrum when people don’t reply to his text/email as quickly as he expects them to. But whenever people text or email him, and he doesn’t reply, and he’s asked why—then he rattles off a dozen, eloquent angry excuses! Or there’s father-this or sister-that who condemns gays and lesbians wholesale. But their communities have been quietly tolerating the divisive and suspect “favoritism” they play with younger formands. And then there’s this priest who preaches so loudly against self-righteousness, he doesn’t even hear that he’s already committing self-righteousness while he preaches: me! Right now!

It’s scary that the word pari could be shorthand for the word, pariseo. And I just noticed, the letter at the center of pariseo is “I”. So maybe it’s not a coincidence; so that we, pari, will remember to stop short of self-righteousness, i.e., so we bite our tongues while we’re still halfway from pari to pariseo. Before Pope Francis earmarked this Year for Mercy, you could already detect from several speeches and homilies his protest against priests who loved the law but hated the sinner, and yet were themselves guilty of the same perversities they denounced in others. He didn’t use the word “priest” though, but the reference was apparent. It finally became obvious when he scolded his Curia and came up with the gut-wrenching “15 Diseases that Ail the Church.” Google it later & see how Francis’ list strikingly resembles Paul’s “works of the flesh”: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, factions, orgies, etc.

Siguro ang mensahe ganito: sa kahuli-hulihan wala naman talaga tayong maaaring ipagmalaki sa Diyos. Neither the self-righteous nor the sincerely righteous—none of us could seriously boast of anything before God. To different degrees, we are all self-righteous. To different degrees, we are also righteous. But whatever goodness or purity we’re tempted to praise ourselves as having, it’s really something we couldn’t use, and shouldn’t use, in order to have a claim before God. It just doesn’t work that way. The point is not so much that we are mabait. The whole point is that in spite of ourselves, God is.

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