3 Kings 17:8-16 / Matthew 23:1-12
One of the most difficult aspects of repentance is holding to two important truths at once. The one is having and unfailingly honest and unsanitized account of one's own sins. The other is to have an equally robust confidence in divine pardon. Generally, we end up finding our way to the first without taking full account of the second, and we do so to our own spiritual peril. Some people, for example, become so aware of their own sins without appreciating God's mercy that, despite continuing to serve others generously among their neighbors or within their community, they are withering away inside, confident only of their own failures. They become convinced that if anyone knew what they knew about themselves, then they could never lift up their heads again.
Others, however, find themselves unable to bear the weight of awareness of their own sins, and so they project their own grave disappointment in themselves on others. They might start out by lashing out at the Church's teaching that point out their sins, but they slide all too easily into pointing out the moral failures of the Church's own leaders and teachers, hoping thereby to avoid paying attention to their own crimson faults.
Jesus, however, counsels us otherwise: The scribes and Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do; but according to their works do ye not; for they say and do not. Jesus is fully aware of the ways that those who teach us the Gospel and who proclaim it from pulpits in churches across the world have failed, and failed to their own peril, to live up to the Gospel they preach. All the same, this is not and cannot be an excuse for us to avoid attending to the truth of their proclamation. To fail to heed what the authentic teachers of the Gospel proclaim is to plug up one's ears against having and honest, true, and illusionless understanding of oneself. It is also, and this is the graver harm, to fail to hear the proclamation of divine pardon which these same ministers are authorized to announce to every creature.
Taking moral criticism from men with feet of clay can be a bitter pill to swallow if we insist on holding to unrealistic and deceptive stories about our own virtue. What Jesus Christ recalls for us is the royal road to hearing the Gospel worthily and well: the way of humility. It is in humility that we can receive a right sense of who we are and how we have lived our lives. It is humility that empowers us to hear God's voice in the broken and sadly sometimes shrill voice of his disciples. It is humility that will soften our hearts, and in that softening let us believe in the full depth of God's pardon, a pardon not of a false and paper-thin replica of our sins, but even of the worst of our betrayals.
He that is the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.