The readings for the last week of August have featured Psalm 139, a Psalm that I love. It is especially valuable since the Gospel has been Matthew 23 where Jesus declares “woe to you scribes and Pharisees”, and the first reading has included Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians in which he explains his motives for his ministry.
The contrasts could not be more stark, Paul is firm in his proclaiming the Good News; he is seeking to please God and not men. So he endures the rejection of many and the frailty of the communities that he is ministering to with love and with honesty. He allows the Lord to search his heart, to probe his motives so that he does not try to accomplish God’s work through deception, through flattery, or that he is not merely seeking praise and attention from other men. His love and his motivation are from God, with whom he draws his strength from an ongoing and intimate relationship.
The Pharisees use the law to bolster themselves, to solidify their power, “neglecting the weightier things of the law: Judgment, mercy and fidelity.” Jesus' words cut like a knife through the exterior delusions of sanctity to reveal that they are filled with “evildoing and hypocrisy.” They are not motivated by love of God, though they claim they are, and may even believe they are.
Admittedly, I am inclined to think of all of the “Pharisees” that I could hurl Matthew 23 at, but listening to Sister Anne Shields’ reflections on these passages cut me short on that little (hypocritical) indulgence. “You can’t judge that (hypocrisy) in others, you can only judge it in yourself.” I need to allow Him to examine me, to probe me, to reveal the wounds and the darkness that ever so subtly corrupt my intentions to serve Him. Only when I submit to His judgment - His diagnosis of the pathological conditions in my soul, if you will - can I receive His mercy and healing and have the obstacles to my own fidelity removed. Only then can the disparity of “intentions of the heart and our external thoughts, words and actions” begin to be unified and whole.
This is why praying Psalm 139 is so wonderful. We are drawn deep into the mystery of God , who loves us; who is ever renewing - in spite of the darkness that is revealed, in spite of the hypocrisies, wounds and fears that are so deeply hidden in the dark interiors of our soul.
I have reflected on this Psalm before, and I don’t think that I can express how it speaks to me any better than I did then:
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! Repent, for the powers that would enslave you have no power over Him. Repent, for God has never left you; though it may be too dark for you to see Him, He sees you. His hand is upon you! Do not be too proud to allow Him to show you your darkest sins, they are not dark to Him. He knows what they have done to you. Do not be afraid to reveal your most depraved desires or your most wretched fears, he is greater and stronger than any of them. He can retrieve you from the Sheol in your soul that imprisons you. Do not be afraid of the chaos sin has stirred up, for His Spirit is with you, encircling you and His mighty wind blows over the dark and formless wastelands in each of our souls, reforming and renewing them. Repent, for the kingdom is at hand! His light will illuminate the way.In allowing the Lord to probe and examine me what is still amazing is how often I operate - even in the good things that I do, like going to Mass, or volunteering my time - out of corrupted motives. The genesis of the motive may well have been pure, but somewhere in my wounded heart it is altered. I really do not like to have these things revealed. Yet, if I do not allow God to penetrate and probe those motives, I can be easily diverted from the whole Truth.
Look at our culture. Look at how quickly we can be diverted from even the most basic concepts of human dignity by cloaking our reasons for supporting evil in works of charity, or words of equality. Abortion anyone? Same-sex “marriage”? When we lose touch with the transcendent, yet powerfully intimate presence of God, individually and collectively as a culture, we lose touch with tho One who can direct our passions authentically, with strength and love. Look at Miley Cyrus, look at how quickly an inborn desire to be known and loved by God is corrupted into a vulgar and debased just-look-at-me desire! When you witness that type of debauchery in action, you begin to understand what the Psalmist says: "Do I not hate those who hate you?" 169:21
But the the Pharisees go wrong here, not because there is nothing to hate in those who pursue corruption and evil doing, but because they seem to love to hate it, out of a corrupted sense of honor. How easily hatred of evil becomes prideful! How easy it is for our motives to be corrupted! We must be careful to allow the Lord to shine His light on our hatred. So that we hate the evil and destruction that is done to the souls around us; so we feel tremendous sorrow because of it; so that His love fills us and flows outward to those who have been so damaged by this fallen world; our own love and charity could not possibly be enough.
Immediately following His dire "Woes" to the Pharisees Jesus expresses His deep sorrow at the destruction that will be wrought upon Jerusalem, and for all those who wander away from the road of eternity. Those who have chosen to hate God's ways.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!" Matthew 23:37
For all the Miley Cyrus’ in the world, each of us must allow the Lord to probe us, heal us and fill us with His perfect love; so that we can truly pray for these souls, and without hypocrisy proclaim God's law and cry out to those who dwell in darkness. We need to be like Paul, so we can authentically and lovingly minister in the depraved and weak world that we live in. Because even those who are so horrifically deformed and corrupted by evil can be touched by His light is an authentic way. Even they can be re-formed in His mighty spirit. Even Miley and praise God, even me.
God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin and guide me on the road of eternity." Psalm 139 New Jerusalem Bible
Peace and Grace to everyone!