Memorial of Saint Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs
When I was growing up, every year around Thanksgiving I would go camping with my family on my uncle’s property. In order to gather firewood for the evenings, we would help cut down the dead, sick, or dying trees that my uncle had marked off for cutting throughout the year. To my untrained eye, all of the trees looked the same on the outside. But, frequently, when we would cut down a tree with the chainsaw, we would discover that the inside of the tree was rotten and hollowed out.
In the Gospel today, Jesus gives strong rebukes against the hypocrisy of some of the Scribes and Pharisees. In these words, Jesus admonishes these religious leaders in order to prompt conversion. For, following the external ritual washings and the religious traditions made by men, they lost sight of the word of God and neglected the commandments from the Lord. For these Scribes and the Pharisees, while everything seemed clean and orderly on the outside, they were growing hollow within. Just like those sick trees on my uncle’s property, so too the interior core of the soul can often rot away, even though on the outside everything looks healthy. If this interior decay continues its course, the person will eventually bring about his or her own destruction. However, unlike the hollowed-out trees, humans can reverse the rot by returning to the Lord, who restores the core from within. For this reason, Jesus offers his warning to save us from our own destruction.
And so, as we ponder the Gospel of the day, let us take Jesus’ message in with genuine honesty. External practices and religious devotions are surely not bad in themselves, but they always ought to be ordered to God’s will and be lived with the integrity of the entire person. By considering where we might be tempted to place our trust in external observances and routines to the neglect of the divine will, we can be on guard against the hypocrisy of which Jesus warns us today. With this awareness, we can strive to cling ever more fully to the word of God and his commandments. God does not want us to be like trees that look healthy on the outside but are hollowed out and decayed within. God wants nothing less for us than the fulness of life both within and without.