[Homily. Assumption Chapel. Mk. 8:11-13; 14-21. 17 Feb. 2020.]
In our Gospel reading for today, the Pharisees attack Jesus. They demand from him “a sign from heaven to test him” (Mk 8:11). But testing him, they expect him to fail. This really exasperates Jesus. “He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, ‘…no sign will be given to this generation’” (Mk 8:12).
But Jesus always worked with signs. In the passage from St. Mark that immediately follows today’s reading and will be read tomorrow, Jesus gives examples of powerful signs which he had set to lead people to faith. Talking to his disciples he asks, “…Do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered, “Twelve” (Mk 8:19). “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered him, “Seven” (Mk 8:20). Jesus used these and many other signs to show people who he was. He healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead to life. And because of these signs, those who were open to truth, came to see who Jesus was. “This is my beloved Son,” The voice from on high said. “Listen to him” (Lk 9:35).
But now Jesus, being challenged by Pharisees to give them a sign, a spectacular sign, to prove that he was the Messiah, replied with exasperation, “No sign will be given to this generation,” meaning, this breed of Pharisees. I give signs and others see. But you blind yourselves to the many signs I have already given, then now ask for a sign?
You hypocrites! You lead people to think that you interpret God’s will, but you do not. You lead people to think you are the examples of religious virtue, but your thoughts and your actions betray your pious pettiness and moral vice. Hypocrites! In Chapter 23 of Matthew Jesus vents his anger against the Pharisees:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering it to go in” (Mt. 23:13). The Pharisees had heard Jesus’ preaching on the Kingdom of Heaven. They acknowledged the Kingdom of God, but hindered people from entering it, and did not go in themselves. From Jesus, they knew of the Kingdom of God but refused to mend their ways so that they could enter it, and worked so that others could benefit from what they refused. Yet, they still asked for a sign. Hypocrites!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mt. 23:14). You know the meaning of the Kingdom of God, its imperatives to compassion and charity, yet because of your privileged positions as holy persons you devour the houses of widows, and for worthless considerations make long prayers. The prayers do not connect you with my Father, but only with the worthless monetary considerations for which you pray them! You hypocrites!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. For you pay tithes of mint and anise and cummin but have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Mt. 23:23). You make as if you are law-abiding, but your following the law falls short of what is required for the Kingdom of God. You know what is required, yet you neglect justice, mercy, and faith. Hypocrites! “You are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanliness” (Mt 23: 27).
Jesus labored to bring people closer to his Father, to introduce them to the goodness and compassion of his reign in his Kingdom, to make them experience that if they accept the Father’s reign, they are loved, forgiven, and redeemed. In this desire of Jesus, the Pharisees were his opponents.
While they claimed to be guiding people to God, they were actually making it more difficult for them to approach God.
While they claimed to be holy and appeared pious, they were actually taking advantage of the poor and the lowly.
While they followed the letter of the law with fastidiousness, they neglected the substantial demands of the law like justice, mercy, and faith.
Jesus refuses to give them a sign because he refuses to manipulated by their hypocrisy.
Coming from this situation, Jesus will tell his disciples, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees” (Mk 8:15). “Leaven,” “yeast,” the bacteria introduced into the dough that makes dough rise, is in the Bible most often a symbol of evil or sin. Jesus warns his disciples, beware of the evil and sin of the Pharisees: hypocrisy. In your relationship with my Father beware of hypocrisy.
Beware of acting as if you don’t know what is right so that you can continue in your wrong.
Beware of acting as if you don’t know the truth so that you can persist in your lack of integrity.
Beware of denying the light that you see, so that you can remain in darkness.
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.
I have given you signs in abundance. You have only to see. I enable you to see. Come, follow me in truth, integrity, and love. Why? So “that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (Jn. 15:11).