August 23, 2021 - Modern Day Pharisees - A Reflection on Matthew 23:13-22

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.

We all have a choice to be blessed or damned. In the Beatitudes, Jesus spells out seven things that lead to blessings, grace, and peace in our lives. In today’s passage (and the one we will look at tomorrow) he spells out the things that lead to a life of misery, struggle, and unhappiness. The Pharisees were guilty of doing these things. What are they? Let us do a quick scan of them, looking at them in the modern-day context to make them more meaningful to us. While we are at it, it wouldn’t hurt to do a quick self-appraisal and see if we might not be modern day Pharisees.

One, we lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. How can somebody do this? By devising their own rules and systems for entering heaven. How does one enter heaven? Peter tells us: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). That’s the simple answer. What rule are you following? What rule are you teaching others to follow? Is it a complicated system that seems designed to lock people out or welcome people in?

Two, we act like pious thieves. You might notice that there is no verse 14 in your Bible, although it is there in older manuscripts. It states: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. Because of this, you will receive a very severe condemnation.” Since this “woe” is almost identical with Mark 12:40 let us consider it here.

Such people often offer assistance to people in need, but the motive is greed. With the pretense of bringing spiritual comfort, such people use their influence to gain money or sexual favors. Peter warns about such people: “With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed —an accursed brood!” (2 Peter 2:14).

Three, we expend a lot of time, effort, and resources to bring people to Christ, but when they come, we make them believe in things that make them even more enslaved than they were before. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus said, “But I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Are we leading lives of abundance? Are the people we minister to leading lives of fulness?

Four, we place an emphasis on ritual rather than relationship. Very often our approach to our faith is superstitious, and prayer consists of a series of well-choreographed steps, that we believe will be effective. "To attribute the efficacy of prayers to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition" (CCC 2111). Think about the prayers that we say. What’s our internal disposition when we make them?

We still have three more woes but plenty to reflect about today.