When we study the Gospels, we see that Jesus’ harshest words were directed, not at sinners, but at religious people such as the Scribes and Pharisees. He had been patient with them, reasoned with them, but to no avail. Eventually he was forced to expose them.
How did Jesus do this? In a manner of speaking, he did it by holding up a mirror in front of them so that for the first time in their lives they might be able to see their true image. It was an image that few of them would have recognized as their own. If they did, they would have experienced a terrible shock.
The picture Jesus painted of them was not a pretty one. In fact, we are filled with loathing when we contemplate their religious pomp and show, together with the inconsistencies of their lives.
The main faults Jesus saw in them being that they did not practice what they preached. They made things impossible for ordinary people by multiplying rules, and demanding exact observance of these rules, without offering the slightest help to those who found them to be a burden. They sought their own glory, rather than the glory of God. They were full of themselves, and were interested only in themselves. And the most damning thing of all…they lacked charity and compassion in their dealings with others.
Jesus shattered their complacent belief in their own goodness and virtue. He exposed them for who they really were, men bursting with vanity, and full of pride. Everything they did was aimed at building up their own supposed goodness and excellence.
However, the Scribes and Pharisees were not a uniquely evil group of people. They were just human. They could be any group of people anytime and anywhere. The picture Jesus painted of them is a mirror into which we too are invited to look. If we do look into it, we will see our own face there, for we have some if not all of their faults.
Do we not sometimes consider ourselves better than others? Do we not lay down the law for others? Do we not demand sacrifices of others which we don’t demand of ourselves? Do we not like to be noticed, to be admired, and to take the best seat if we can get it? Are we not lacking in charity, compassion, a sense of justice and a spirit of serving others?
The real tragedy of the Scribes and Pharisees wasn’t the fact that they had faults, but that they were blind to their faults. Many of them were sincere and pious people. But what good is piety if it doesn’t make us more humble, more loving, and more compassionate?
We don’t have to put on an outward show, or pretend to be what we are not. All we have to do is try and be true to what we are, that being, sons and daughters of God.
— November 5, 2017, Fr. Dennis