Some Pharisees and scribes have come from Jerusalem to see Jesus.They have heard about him, and want to see why he is so popular. But they are shocked by what they discover.
They notice that some of Jesus’s disciples are eating without having washed their hands. This goes against the tradition of the Pharisees and some other Jews who always wash their hands before eating so as not to be unclean.
The Pharisees and scribes are appalled by this behaviour and wonder about this man Jesus. How can he be a religious leader and a prophet if his followers do not even respect the tradition of the elders?
But Jesus’ response to them is devastating. He calls them hypocrites. He says that they are more interested in keeping external rules and regulations than in living God’s commandments. Their brand of religion is more about outward show than worship of God. They pay lip service to God while their hearts are far from him.
It is a danger we can face too – that our religion will be more about external appearances than really living out the Gospel. We need to make sure there is no gap between what we profess in church and how we live outside of church.
Pray for those who have been hurt by church people or by the scandals in the Church. Pray that nothing you do will ever give scandal.
During Woodrow Wilson’s time as president of the United States (1913-1921), he was often described as the great moralist. It was also how he saw himself. As a devout Christian and son of a Presbyterian minister, Wilson fervently believed in the primacy of morality in politics. After the devastation of the First World War, he outlined his grand vision for a peaceful new world order, where peoples and nations would have the right to shape their own destinies, and where colonial conquest and oppression would be no more. He proposed setting up a League of Nations to ensure that war and conflict would never happen again. The League would settle international disputes and protect the interests of smaller, weaker countries. It was a noble idea.
But there was a major problem – Wilson’s own moral blind spots. He ignored the plight of the small and weak people in his own country. He did nothing to tackle systemic racism or women’s demand for the right to vote. He clamped down on free speech in wartime. A native of the Deep South, he was supportive of the Ku Klux Klan and was actively racist in his attitude to African Americans. Wilson’s moral idealism did not apply to them or to women’s rights, and so history has judged him guilty of hypocrisy.
There was nothing unique about Woodrow Wilson. Human beings have always been prone to hypocrisy. As have people in the Church. The clerical abuse scandals of the last thirty years have shocked Catholics to the core and left them wondering how so many priests and religious could have behaved in such a depraved and hypocritical manner.
The Church’s credibility has been deeply damaged, because the gap between what those church people professed and what they did (or didn’t do) was obvious for all to see. There was a clear disconnection between their words and their actions.
Whatever our rank in the Church, as Christians, our words and deeds must spring from a life lived in Jesus. There must be a clear consistency between what we say and what we do.
- The Christian tries to practise what he or she believes.
- The Christian knows that nobody is perfect.
- Unless our worship comes from the heart, it is empty and false.
- The Ten Commandments, referred to in today’s first reading, are our signposts for living.
Because none of us is perfect, it is hard to always practise the faith we profess in the way that we should. Look up the commandments; think about the teachings of Jesus and how he has asked us to live. How well do you think you are doing? Is there any trace of the hypocrite in you?