When I lived in Williamson, there was a young preacher from the little town of Chattaroy who was the new minister at the local church. After two or three of our monthly meetings, he told us that he had been there long enough to see the problems in the church. He told us he was going to start preaching about them. The next month, he told us that he had been fired. Another minister said, “They want to hear about sin in Chicago, not in Chattaroy.”
None of us likes to her someone talk about our sins. It is painfully easy for me to apply the words of Jesus in today’s gospel to myself because I am a religious leader, a priest and pastor. It’s too easy for the simple for the rest of us to sit back, shake our heads, and think, “Wow, Jesus sure could get angry at those Pharisees,” and skip to the next passage. Part of the Jewish oral tradition known as the Talmud speaks of seven kinds of Pharisees. In reading their descriptions it is not too surprising to discover we Christians can be just like the Pharisees.
- The Shoulder Pharisees were careful in following the law, but wore their good deeds on their shoulders for everyone to see. Aren’t there Christians today who are always reminding people of their goodness?
- The Wait-a-Little Pharisee who could always produce a seemingly valid excuse for putting off a good deed. Don’t some of us do the same when it comes to doing and giving and getting involved?
- The Bruised Pharisee walked around with their eyes closed. Women had a very low status in Jesus’ day. No good man would ever be caught or seen talking to a woman in public even if she was his mother, wife or sister. Some Pharisees would walk with eyes closed to avoid looking at women and would run into people and things. Don’t some of us Christians close our eyes to poverty, injustice and sin all around us.
- The Hunchbacked Pharisees were so humble they would walk with-out lifting their feet off the ground. Their humility was false because they wanted everyone to know they were humble. I’ve lost count of how many people have told me in confession that they haven’t committed any sins! That’s how “humble” they are.
- The Compounding Pharisees were always keeping count of their good deeds. I see this in children a lot when they are trying to talking their parents into something they want to do or have. Some of us do the is with God. “I have done this, that, and the other thing. God, I deserve to have this prayer answered.”
- The Timid Pharisees were always afraid of God’s punishment which was why they obeyed the law so carefully. They didn’t like it or want to obey, but they were so afraid of God and hell, they followed the law to the letter. There are many Christians who are just like this as a result of “hell-fire and damnation” preaching they have heard and continue to hear.
- The God-fearing Pharisees really and truly loved God and delighted in keeping the commandments and doing good deeds because doing so was pleasing to God. These are the disciples that Jesus wants to have. Men, women, youth, and children who respect and love God deeply and desire to avoid sin and do good because it pleases God.
Whenever I read words of Jesus speaking out against the religious leaders of his day, they hit close to home because I am a religious leader in this time and place. However, the harsh words of Jesus in today’ gospel are something we all need to think and pray about.