Catching the bull by it’s tail- Tuesday, 2nd Week of Lent – Matthew 23: 1-12
The Lenten battle is mostly fought in our hearts and while the area may seem no larger than my fist, the enemy through cunning deceit, fights on, so as to not loose an inch. It is a world of deception that he weaves, where even those who work in the evangelizing fields, may end up ruining a bumper harvest. If we get lost by the razzle and dazzle of who we are, rather than what we are called to do, then we end up like the Pharisees of old. So the words of Jesus are words of caution; not only for preachers, but all who bear the name ‘Christian’, for all are called to be evangelizers.
By the time of Jesus, the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ lifestyle of the Scribes and Pharisees was out in the open. So their acts of repentance had become merely a ritual. We are told that even the prophets condemned these outwardly demonstration of piety, especially that of rending their garments; and from the description of their phylacteries and tassels, they seemed to have quite a bit of it to do! That was not all. The gospel of today tells us so much more about their behaviour. They preach but don’t practice; they tie burdens, but will not lift a finger to move them. Their words and actions are merely to win men’s admiration. They love being greeted in public places with their honorific titles.
For Jesus, His mission was all about getting us to the basics of life; a heart that is pure and a love that is right. So His confrontation with the Pharisees was not with their vocation but how they lived it. He saw their living as divorced from man and God; all chatter, no substance. So as bullish as I may be about this topic, don’t get this text by its tail. A number of Christians see in this text, a condemnation of their local ‘non practicing, table thumping preacher’ and erroneously reiterate a forgone conclusion: namely, ‘let’s not go to Church’ or even worse, ‘look at these hypocrites, it is better not to believe in religion; rather lets embrace the spiritual.’
Hold your horses! Hypocrisy is not unique to a vocation. So let’s not start looking for the splinter in our preacher’s eye without looking at the plank in our own. Jesus never said stop believing or stop going to Church. He simply said that if you don’t like what you see then don’t do as they do, but do what they say’. In short, the message is always true; the messenger may sometimes be flawed.
Most of us are not models of exemplary life or of perfection, though that’s our Christian calling. We most certainly fall way short of what the Gospel calls us to be, even though we may encourage each other to do so. Jesus is not criticizing a sinner from helping a sinner. What He is after, is hypocrisy; pretending to be someone we are not.
The Rabbis, which means ‘my great one’, had come to claim this title at around the time of Jesus. They appropriated ‘their seats on the chair of Moses’. By predating their authority, they legitimised their belief of an ‘unbroken line’ going back to Moses. They asserted their right to interpret the scriptures. It is the behaviour behind these empty sounding titles that are condemned; not the use of them. So don’t let some happy literal translator of the Bible tell you that you should not call any one ‘Father’. The last time I checked, they who take this text of scripture seriously don’t cut off their right had when it causes them to sin. Now I wonder why?
So how do we overcome hypocrisy? Sincerely admitting our failing; that’s all. St Paul boasted of his sins and spoke of his weakness and his dependence on The Lord. People saw in him the man who walked the talk. That’s what every preacher is called to do, that’s what every Christian is called to be.
Fr Warner D’Souza
With malice to none.
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