Annual Dinner - October 20th, 2017
Extracts from the Homily preached during Holy Mass with the Association of Papal Orders
Archbishop Jude Thaddeus OKOLO
Feast of St Paul of the Cross - 20th October 2017
Today’s Gospel speaks of a multitude that had gathered around Jesus, so great, indeed, that people were trampling on one another. Yet Jesus did not address the multitude first. He turned, rather, to his disciples. Why so?
I think we can surmise that our Lord saw this as a good moment to teach his followers. Very soon, together with the disciples, he would be in Jerusalem. There, they would have a hostile crowd around them, demanding the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus. The hostility of that new crowd would prove too much for the disciples, who would take flight and even deny that they had ever known ‘the Nazarene’. Perhaps, therefore, Jesus is seeking, in today’s Gospel passage, to prepare his close followers to face the tense situation of rejection that would soon come to pass. A hostile crowd is often the normal setting in which the Gospel message is communicated. The disciples had to learn how to exercise boldness in proclaiming the Good News in unfavourable circumstances. They would need to prepare for the persecution that would surely come their way before long.
In the Gospel passage, Christ is warning his disciples, and us, of a possible danger: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy”. Why talk about the “yeast” or “leaven” of hypocrisy? The Jews were used to unleavened bread, bread without yeast. It is yeast that makes the dough rise. But this shape is deceptive. It is a somewhat empty and inflated reality. It represents a certain falsehood. In the case of the Pharisees, this took the form of having all the trappings of good and holy men, but inside, Jesus said, they were full of “greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39).
Hypocrisy, however, can also take another form in the lives of religious people and this is the danger that Jesus seems to be alluding to in the case of his disciples. Let’s take a look at this other dimension which is not always very evident.
One can also become false and empty by trying to accommodate one’s appearance to what the people around think or feel, so as not to attract their ill-will or even hostility. One changes one’s colour, like the chameleon, to suit the background and go unseen and unremarked. Deliberately, out of fear, one does not bear true witness to the Gospel. The hypocrisy of the disciple may, of course, be like that of the Pharisees, pretending to be more pious than one is, but it may also be that of the person who pretends to be less pious or religious so as not to become an object of derision or of unfavourable comment. For the Pharisees, the goal was to receive the praise of men, but for the disciples the hypocritical motivation would have been to avoid attracting persecution by those who hated true righteousness and sought to crucify Jesus.
The hypocrisy about which the disciples are being warned is that of seeking to conceal the Gospel in which they have believed, to conceal their discipleship. In the end, of course, this cowardice is futile. Jesus tells the disciples that the Gospel is going to be proclaimed publicly, one way or another. It simply cannot remain concealed. Trying to conceal the Gospel is like trying to hide the sun, which always breaks through the clouds.
Our faith was never meant to be concealed. It was never meant to be locked up and whispered in dark corners. It was meant to be proclaimed always and everywhere, in public and in private, in the market place and behind closed doors.