Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Pharisees, Planks and Publicans

There is a generic sermon I've heard once too often that goes something like this:

We mustn't be like the Pharisees, they were so loving of the rules of their faith they forgot to heed the word of God. Jesus lambasts the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. We mustn't be like them, we must be people who do good in God's name.

OK so there is nothing wrong with that as it stands. The Pharisees do come in for a tongue lashing from Our Lord (and from John the Baptist too), this is necessary to show us how those who very outwardly profess and demonstrate the rituals of their faith may be masking a multitude of sins and behaving in a hypocritical manner. Hypocrisy needs exposing, we must all strive to remove it from ourselves as we examine our consciences. The rules and regulations that so enticed the Pharisees were mainly to do with preserving their ritual purity. They seemed to forget that the purity we should strive for is a pure heart and that a pure heart is also a contrite and humble heart.

What is bugging me is that the term Pharisee is being bandied about to mean someone who outwardly shows signs of his/her faith. Some people seem to think the modern day Pharisee may look something like this

Some laugh at outward signs of piety, some are convinced it is the root of the rot in the Church. Be normal regular guys, be cool and certainly don't go for any of these outward symbols of your faith and the rebuking the Pharisees received from Jesus will not fall on your heads.

Well, hang on a minute! Surely those who outwardly profess their faith in such manner are well aware that they have the full weight of the faith to uphold. They are well aware that they must rely totally God's mercy to prevent them falling, surely they are well aware how far they can fall.

Is not the modern day Pharisee just as likely to be seen dressed casually, interpreting the teachings of the faith to suit him/herself, pouring scorn on the "uneducated" and "reactionary" who wish to worship in the "old fashioned way", saying to themselves things like "I'm more holy because I don't pray the rosary".....?

Well, it's not for me to judge. I can't spot a Pharisee any more than you can. All we can do is look in the mirror and ask some hard questions of the mug who stares back at us.

Jesus with an unreceptive audience from a 16th Century Lectionary.


Philip said...

Nail on the head!

When I see women in mantillas or men dressed nicely in church, I think how much they must love God; they made an effort. Of course, that is a generalisation, but as you point out, why make windows into people's souls!

That said, the first lady in the picture has some *vicious* looking finger nails! ;-)

Irene said...

Now understand, I am a very radical Catholic -- militant pacifist and all. Yet I love many of the ancient symbols of my faith -- for example, my Rosary is the most beautiful one I could find, after scouring the entire country.

Rita, you have made some really good points. And philip, I always have loved the mantillas, and wish I could get my wife to wear one. Come to think of it, I wish I could get our two altar servers to wear them.

But the essence of Pharisee-ism is a combination of two of our most dangerous sins: scrupulosity and hypocrisy. No one can see these sins on the outside -- beautiful as the two ladies in the mantillas are, they may be modern day pharisees -- or not; God alone knows.

On the other hand, the parishioners who dress in T-shirts and jeans and pray a 50 cent rosary of plastic popbeads may live lives of St. Francis or Mother Theresa, totally committed to poverty and obedience -- or not; again, God alone knows.

So you are perfectly correct: we have not been appointed judges. We have more than enough to do minding our own business. Someone else already has been appointed to separate wheat from cockles.

Obviously, it is those bloggers (and others) who are so scrupulous about the possible hypocrisy of the ladies with the mantillas who in fact are the pharisees and hatemongers. Best not to waste any of our time on them -- best to use our time imitating St. Francis and Mother Theresa.

Joe said...

Thank you for a thoughtful post.

ukok said...

Great reflection, Rita, and one that i will unravel and contemplate as i go about my day today :-)