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HOW EASY IT IS TO CONDEMN THE PHARISEES!

Father Francis's picture
Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Thess. 2:1-8 & Mt. 23:23-26

When writing to the Thessalonians Paul told of his humiliation in Philippi because of a slave girl who brought a substantial profit to her master by fortune telling. For several days she followed Paul around, making fun of him, until he commanded the spirit to leave her. The girl’s masters were now without a fortune teller. They had lost this source of income and so brought trumped-up charges against him. He was beaten and imprisoned, escaped and went to Thessalonica claiming that it was God who entrusted the ministry of preaching to him.

Many Pharisees were devout men who did their best to follow God, but Jesus reproached them for losing sight of the heart of religion. They became so concerned with interpreting the Law and keeping it down to the smallest detail that they forgot it was only there to help people serve God and live holy lives.

We probably all know people in our daily lives who are obsessed with keeping rules to the letter. Sometimes we have to be spiritually wise and know when to keep human rules and when to break them. While the Pharisees were meticulous about their tithes, they could at the same time be self-righteous, judgemental and worldly. They liked being admired by others. Their hearts were far from God. The prophets had told the Jews in the past that love and mercy were more important than burnt offerings, but the message was easily forgotten.

It may be easy for us to denounce the Pharisees as hypocrites but perhaps we should take a careful look at our own lives. Are we putting up a religious ‘front’ while our thoughts and hearts are far from God?

Hypocrisy is a constant threat to our spiritual life, and the more we think we are growing spiritually, the worse it can become. What is important is whether we embrace the Gospel challenge to love God and our neighbour. The truth is that we are all sinners in great need of God’s mercy. Let us spend time every day in prayer, so that we may know God's forgiveness, and His love may be poured into our hearts. Let us try to cleanse our hearts and minds of sinful desires, so that we can live as God wants us to. Jesus reminds us that the essence of what God wants is simple, “to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8).

Lord Jesus, help us to remember that justice, mercy and faith are what matters. Renew and strengthen our hearts, so that we may be people who bring your love to the world.

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