Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter” (Lk 11:52).
I have quoted my friend, mentor, and brother, Dr. Sixto Garcia, before, and it is worth quoting him again: “We are a living, craving, hunger, and desire to be one with God and one another. This is true for the atheist and believer alike.” At the very root, in the very bowels of our being, we yearn for God. The psalmist echoes this point as well: “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God” (Psalm 42:2). Whether we know it or not, believe it or not, we yearn for God. He is the only one who can fulfill what our deepest longing is because as St Augustine wrote in his Confessions, he “has made us for himself and we are restless until we rest in thee”.
To prevent access, to those who seek, as did those for whom Jesus points in today’s Gospel, is an egregious offense. Especially in the way that Jesus describes. They themselves have the key to enter, do not avail themselves of the gift they have received, and worse, prevent others from going in! I remember a time in eighth grade where I had wanted to ask a girl I liked out to the school dance. I confided this hope with someone but of course, the word got out. A few days later in math class, the teacher laughed aloud and announced to the whole class that I was the first one he had ever heard of being rejected before I could even ask someone out. I wanted to melt into the floor.
Now, this may not be the most direct example of what Jesus was talking about, but there is a parallel. Teachers, like religious leaders, are entrusted with the care of those they have been entrusted to teach, and when they betray that trust and belittle those they are charged to empower, they slam doors in the faces of those who seek to actualize their potential. We are all caretakers of each other. We need to resist any temptation to belittle, to dehumanize, or crush the spirit of anyone.
St Paul in his most theologically mature letter wrote: “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1). People are hungry for God. We must resist building walls or refuse to open doors to those who seek. We need to build bridges of encounter and accompaniment. Even when the seeker does not recognize they are seeking, and expresses their thirst to us, in not the most pleasant of ways. Here it is even more important that we resist reacting, and slipping into a defensive posture, but instead risk to be open, to be understanding, to listen with our spirit instead of our ego for what the need truly may be.
As Pope Francis wrote: “Each one of us is called to be an artisan of peace, by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths to dialogue and not by constructing new walls! Let us dialogue and meet one another in order to establish a culture of dialogue in the world, a culture of encounter” (Pope Francis, 128).
Pope Francis. The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2014.