Aramaic scholar, Neil Douglas Klotz says that the word “woe” from a Semitic language viewpoint is a cry of alarm or warning in the context of being cut off from the sacred flow of life. Jesus wasn’t warning the Pharisees of impending doom after they die. At that point in time, the Jews had no Judgment Day theology.
Jesus was worried about the quality of peoples’ lives (including the Pharisees’ lives) today. Jesus came preaching, “The kingdom of the heavens is at hand!”
Jesus was focused on life today. Modern Christianity has moved so far toward end-times religion that it has lost the meaning of Jesus’s message, “I came that you might have life and have it to the full.”
What were the Pharisees doing that was stealing their abundance in life? They were more focused on what the common folks were doing wrong instead of how they personally could enhance the lives of the sheep they were charged to care for.
The prophets kept pointing to the spirit of the law – caring for those who couldn’t care for themselves. “Welcome the foreigner who is now without a home. Feed the hungry. Care for the sick.”
I always believed Jesus was chastising the Pharisees with this reading. Now I see that Jesus was truly concerned for the Pharisees. He wanted them to experience life today. And he was distressed that they were missing out because religion was getting in the way.
Jesus’s words were a heartfelt cry, an expression of alarm arising from a well of compassion. The sacred flow of life depends on people working for the good of each other.
Preachers and teachers tend to think their main role is to announce to people what they are supposed to do. Jesus wasn’t deprecating the preaching of law, for the law to love is about the heaviest burden anyone can bear. But the Pharisees were not practicing that same love they were teaching.
Not many today can claim they are any better at practicing love than those who came before us. Only Jesus was able to teach the truth about entering the sacred flow of life. He didn’t just preach it. He lived it.
Therefore, he is the Teacher. He has revealed the Father as love.
We should be so humble as to never dream to be considered equal to those who have carried the heaviest burden and succeeded.
Yet if you believe Christianity is a burden, why would you tell your neighbor about it? Why would you want to invite someone to church if it is not a joy and comfort to you?
Laws don’t get us through the struggles of life. Knowing all the commandments by memory and keeping the letter of the Law will not help us when the rug is yanked out from under us, and we must face the realities of life.
What helps us deal with life as it happens is that we have consistently shown love to others by our actions, and that gives them the motivation to come to our aid in our need. That’s a religion worth sharing with others. Life can become a joy and a celebration when we are less concerned about law and religion than we are about love and harmony.
“The greatest among you will be your servant.” The Kingdom of God, the creative advancement toward unity, is marked by servanthood and humility. Your actions as a servant will carry far more weight in preaching the good news than the words of any reverend doctor or professor who does not practice the message of Jesus Christ.
Practicing what you preach is given more significance by St. Francis when he said, “Preach the gospel at all times…use words if necessary.”
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If you’re interested in the other text (Matt. 5:1-12) for Nov. 2, All Saints Sunday, check out how I explain the Beatitudes as interpreted from Aramaic.
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