DEVOUT AND RELIGIOUS, BUT FAR FROM GOD – 5 November 2017, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Mal 1:14B-2:2B, 8-10; 1 Thes 2:7B-9, 13; Mt 23:1-12
Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications, Macau

Today, there is danger of Christians become Pharisaic.

He is a Pharisee, first of all, who occupies another’s chair. Every synagogue had a teaching chair. It was called “the chair of Moses” from which every Rabbi, taught. Jesus uses the image of this chair to outline the first negative characteristic of those belonging to the sect of the Pharisees: the abuse of authority.

According to Deuteronomy the successors of Moses are the prophets (Dt 18:15.18). But, eventually, their place was illegally occupied by the scribes. So prophecy gave way to rabbis’ prescriptions and provisions. They were passed on as “word and will of God.”

There are those who, today, reduce the relationship with the Lord to compliance with applicable laws and precepts, who preach a legalism that stifles and takes away the joy of feeling always loved and welcomed by God. They are perpetuating the spirituality of the Pharisees.

The second characteristic of the Pharisee is thus highlighted: inconsistency. A pharisee is anyone who says but does not do. He presents himself a devout person, speaks fine words on love, peace, respect of others, but cleverly avoids to get involved with these statements of principle.

The third characteristic of the Pharisees is the loading of unbearable burdens on the shoulders of the people. They reduce the faith and love of God to the practice of religion or observance of the precepts. People are perpetually made insecure for fear of breaching a minute law. Such a fearful Jewish religion is represented by empty stone jars at Cana. They are joyless: No wine (Jn 2:1-11).

The fourth Pharisaical characteristic is exhibitionism, the desire to show off. This defect was deeply rooted. He called hypocrites, those who practice good deeds before people to be seen, those who pray standing in the synagogues and at the street corners to be noted, those who fast with a melancholy air, so that everyone is aware that they are mortifying (Mt 6:1.5.16).

Today the desire to attract attention of the people, the claim to having cameras trained on oneself have not disappeared in the pretext of publicizing good deeds. Jesus suggests an alternative life for the disciples: “whoever makes himself great shall be humbled, and who ever humbles himself shall be made great.”

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