Acting Like The Pharisees
Throughout His public ministry, Jesus was often confronted by the Pharisees. They were a group of very religious Jewish zealots who are mentioned several times in the New Testament. They loved the Law of Moses and wanted nothing to do with Gentiles. Their interpretation of the law caused them to be at odds with Jesus’ New Covenant, mainly because it was extended to all people. The most famous member of the Pharisees was Saul of Tarsus, who later went on to become St. Paul.
When we read of the Pharisees in the Bible, it usually involves a confrontation with Jesus. In the gospel of today’s Mass (Mk 8:11-13), they approach The Lord and demand a sign from heaven “to test Him”. Jesus, knowing that they are testing Him, refuses to provide a sign. When we read of such encounters, we grow angry and are thankful that we don’t behave in this manner.
But just as the Pharisees didn’t feel that God’s mercy should extend to Gentiles, we often feel the same way about non-Christians or other individuals. One of the most common pet-peeves of Catholics is the people who come to Mass “at Christmas and Easter”. We are often critical of them because they crowd the Church and don’t know when to sit and stand. I’ve heard a very devout Catholic say that they refused to move in for somebody who arrived late at Mass. Isn’t this the way the Pharisees acted? Another problem arises when Catholics don’t follow the teachings of the Church. Rather than take the Pharisaical approach and shun them, shouldn’t we instead reach out and explain what the Church teaches? It’s quite possible that they just don’t know any better.
I have to admit that I am sometimes guilty of this behavior. My love for the Catholic Church often causes me to “lash out” in an uncharitable way when someone criticizes the Church or her teachings. Although it is important that we defend the Church, we must always do it with compassion. St. Peter tells us, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.” (1 Pt 3:15-16)
Ironically, even though St. Paul was himself a Pharisee, he is now known as “The Apostle to the Gentiles”! Let’s ask Paul to help us remember that the Good News of Jesus Christ is not an exclusive club, but is open to everyone.