Earlier this week (both Monday and Tuesday), Jesus was blunt. In speaking with the Pharisees, He didn’t mince his words, “woe to you…”.
Jesus’ public rant fills Matthew 23 as He tells the Pharisees exactly how He feels about their hypocrisy, duplicity and pathetic attempts to please God through their actions rather by their love and mercy towards others.
Woe and woe and more woe to those Pharisees! Jesus is clearly telling them great sorrow and distress is headed their way unless they change their behavior. Jesus was giving them both a ‘woe’ and a ‘Whoa! Hey, cut it out!’
During the homily, the priest wondered aloud what did Jesus’ reprimand sound like? Did Jesus wag his finger at them and speak his ‘woe’ harshly? Or perhaps, He was more gentle, warning them with a sorrowful ‘woe’; a warning so to speak that if they didn’t stop (whoa!), then condemnation was headed their way.
Both approaches can be affective, both will fulfill work of mercy that asks us to let the sinner know the sin they are committing. But, they aren’t the same and are only effective if used in the proper context.
We know this important difference as parents. We shout the “whoa!” as our young one heads toward the road, and we speak a more gentle ‘whoa’ to our older teens struggling with peer pressure. Both are said firmly and without compromise. Both are said to help our children avoid harm or worse. But they are delivered differently.
“WHOA! Stay out the street!” Woe could be headed your way by means of a car!”, we shout as the younger one head down the driveway.
“Whoa, stand firm in your faith when you start deciding which movie to go see. Woe will come by way of sin if you don’t guard your eyes and soul.”, we remind the older one as we stand in the driveway and watch them head off.
It’s important not to confuse the two when it comes to our family. A whisper won’t stop the toddler from running and yelling at the teen won’t remind them to follow Jesus.
After all, Jesus speaks both of those to us. Out of love He reminds us of the woe coming our way from persistent sin while at the same time He gives us the grace and self-control necessary to say ‘whoa’ to ourselves. Sometimes it a shout from the Sunday gospel and sometimes it is a whisper during prayer. We need to be listening for both.