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All Saints …. including Pharisees?

This Sunday, the 31st in Ordinary Time in Year A, is also when we celebrate All Saints Day. That means we don’t get the Gospel reading for that regular Sunday. Many of us would think, “Just as well!” because it is not very nice, being the opening section of a long chapter in which Matthew beats up on the Pharisees of his day for their hypocrisy and many other faults. “Pharisees bad, Christians good” it is then, and what is worse it is all put into the mouth of Jesus. Not an edifying text for All Saints Day. Matthew’s church seemed to have moved a long way from the earlier period when Paul was glad to celebrate his origins as a Pharisee, “a Hebrew of the Hebrews”.
But maybe there is more to Matthew’s line of thinking than we might suppose on first sight. If we put the two alternative Gospel readings together (All Saints beatitudes from Matthew 5 and OS31 woes from Matthew 23) another construction seems likely – that Matthew sees the Pharisees as engaged in the same holy calling as his own Christian community – engaging people in a costly discipleship, but failing …. not unlike Matthew’s own faith community, or our own.
One possible conclusion: when we celebrate the great saints of history, who triumphed over their failings through God’s grace, Matthew would not want us to exclude some of the very Pharisees that were breaking his heart. Maybe Christians should learn to honour these foundational Jewish rabbis as spiritual ancestors and their descendants as our estranged kin.
My comments can be found here…
Howard Pilgrim

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