Whitewashed Tombs

“Whitewashed Tombs”
A reflection on Matthew 23:27-32 and Romans 8:19-23
Wednesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out!

Matthew 23:27-32

The “Woes of the Pharisees” can be traced back to pre-Abrahamic, protohistorical roots in Cain (Matthew 23:35), and thus address the whole human race that has lost its simplicity. 

The earth itself has become a tomb on account of the first murder.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord asked Cain, Where is your brother Abel? He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God then said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are banned from the ground that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.

Genesis 4:8-11

The cry of the earth and the cry of God go hand in hand. Adam and his progeny are at the center of the drama, which climaxes in the cry of the God-man-earth on the Cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). When Christ gave up his spirit, the Gospel of Matthew reports:

The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

Matthew 27:51b-53

All creatures look to Christ and his saints to lead them into the Promised Land.

For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Romans 8:19-23

3 Replies to “Whitewashed Tombs”

  1. Dear GMC, As we wait and groan, a suggestion from a Passionist reflection: “In Paul’s beautiful Letter to the Hebrews, Paul encourages the early Christians:
    Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it.” Thank you, GMC, for your reflection. In it, may we have grown, too.

  2. Seems a bit depressing to think of all creation groaning while waiting for the end times. When I see the natural disasters happening now: fires, floods, storms, I see the earthly elements in disorder. We have disrespected our common home. Rather than groaning, perhaps the cries for environmental justice should drown out the groans. St. Paul speaks of labor pains which give way to joy. I hope we will share the beauty of creation while we still have these earthly gifts, and realize the importance of passing on the “good earth” to the next generation.

    1. The beauty of the flickering light and shadows of ephemeral creatures can also point beyond to the mysterious God hidden in Light and Darkness (Exodus 3:2; 20:21).

      God is in the present moment.

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