Expectations are high for faithful who know better

Father John A. Kiley

Nothing grieved Jesus more than the hostility of the religious leaders toward his message of redemption and salvation. Jesus was patient with the crowds and forbearing toward sinners, but he was quite irritated with the priests and teachers, scribes and Pharisees, rabbis and doctors of the law, who resisted his every word and ignored his calls for repentance.

Only twice do the Gospels relate that Jesus actually wept, cried tears, over a particular challenge. St. John records that Jesus, greatly disturbed, wept over the death on his close friend Lazarus. ‘When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became disturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” This touching reaction of Jesus to the loss of his dear friend is perfectly understandable and a tribute to the authenticity of Jesus’ true human nature.

The other incident of Jesus’ shedding tears occurred when he approached Jerusalem on what has become known as Palm Sunday. St. Luke observes: “As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” It should be carefully noted that Jesus here wept as he approached the city of Jerusalem and not as he wandered the territory of Israel at large. Jesus did not judge the hapless crowds who followed him so desperately during his many days in Galilee. Jesus was patient, in fact, indulgent, toward the masses that swelled around him as he preached and healed in the northern provinces of the Holy Land. The tolerance and mercy that Jesus exhibited toward these rural crowds is in marked contrast to the painful consternation he exhibited toward the spiritual leaders and religious establishment who populated Israel’s capital city. St. Matthew also remembers Jesus’ distressed words, “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! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate.”

The traditional and familiar compassion of Jesus toward the crowds clearly underlines the contempt that Jesus exhibited toward society’s religious leaders. Jesus never blamed the masses for their ignorance or their obtuseness. But Jesus roundly condemned the scribes and Pharisees in no uncertain terms. This coming Sunday’s Gospel of the landowner and his vineyard has no other explanation than Jesus’ anger at those who should have perceived his Gospel message but roundly resisted his preaching. “’What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?’ They answered him, ‘He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.’ Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.’” Jesus’ anger was reserved exclusively for those who should have known better, those who had all the advantages of a profound religious tradition, those who were schooled in the Scriptures, frequented the Temple liturgies, and scrupulously observed the Mosaic law.

Those who had no excuse for their resistance to the Gospel were chastised most severely for their rejection of that Gospel. “Those to whom much is given much will be demanded,” Jesus famously observed elsewhere.

Any person reading The Rhode Island Catholic faithfully and any reader astute enough to appreciate “The Quiet Corner” regularly should carefully examine his or her conscience in the light of the above instruction. Clearly Jesus expects more from Catholics who were raised in the faith, attend Mass religiously, and have a grasp of the Church’s teachings than he does from any of our unbelieving neighbors. Surely Jesus is more pained by neglect from a so called good Catholic than he is by the indifference of a possibly faithless worldling. Those given much should respond much!