Insights On The Pharisees
“They preach but they do not practice.”
It’s comfortable to say, “Oh, those Pharisees!” and move on, thinking that this passage isn’t relevant today. But is that really true? Let’s look at the Pharisees.
They were lay religious leaders who wanted to observe God’s law so perfectly they had built up another body of laws to help them do so. They also wanted other people to follow the same rules. These rules were difficult, so some of the Pharisees prided themselves on their strict obedience. They acted superior to people who failed. Some seem to have become so bogged down in laws of human making that they placed these above the commandments of God.
Jesus was open to the Pharisees. He accepted their hospitality. He welcomed Nicodemus, who came to him as a sincere seeker of truth. But Jesus had a problem with the way some Pharisees lived. And Matthew reported this for the benefit of his Christian community.
In religious movements there’s a danger that laws will multiply and people will become so bogged down in seeking perfection that they stifle the breath of inspiration. This may be why Matthew quoted Jesus’ recommendation to give God’s commandments more importance than an abundance of human precepts. He also quoted Jesus’ directives to avoid titles and honors and to live in humble service.
It’s an important reminder for anyone in leadership. As we’re told elsewhere in the Gospel, much is expected of anyone to whom much has been given.
But this teaching doesn’t stop with leaders. We’re all called to live what we believe. Each of us can ask himself or herself: How many times in the past twenty-four hours have I given a bad example? How can I become a better follower of Jesus?
Lord, forgive me. Often I think I’m quite good, and I can’t understand why others don’t do such good deeds as I do, or why they don’t shun the vices I avoid. When I’m thinking this, you sometimes—mercifully—let me fall flat on my face. And then I see how imperfect I am. Thank you for such moments! Please continue to enlighten me each time I begin to stray. Help me to really live what I believe. Let me recognize everyone as a brother or sister to be respected, loved, and humbly served after your example.
“The greatest among you must be your servant.”
Daughters of Saint Paul. (2008). Lenten Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections (pp. 40–41). Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media.