“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Today’s gospel reading is a continuation of yesterday’s, so the reflection will be too. We looked at four things yesterday that prevent us from leading lives of abundance. Today let us look at two more. These eight “woes” are the antithesis of the eight “beatitudes” that Jesus spoke about. While one leads to a blessed life, the other leads to a wretched one. Let’s look at them in the modern context. And, like we did yesterday, let us see if we might be guilty of doing the same things the Pharisees in Jesus’ time did.
One, we act like legalists. I remember a few days after my conversion, I was talking to a group of leaders within the church. One of them launched into a long lecture about how I needed to do things a certain way, and while he wasn’t entirely wrong, I realized his focus was on obeying laws. I have come to understand it is because we find it easier to gauge our spirituality by following rules because then we can tick boxes, but doing things without heart is meaningless.
Consider tithing, for instance. As Christians, we need to share the resources that God has blessed us with. These include time, talent, and treasure. Treasure, of course, is money, and Paul taught that we reap what we sow. “Remember this,” Paul says. “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). But the question that ALWAYS follows is this: so, tell me what percentage I must tithe?
Two, we believe the externals are important. We feel it is important that we are seen as good people, never mind that we are rotten on the inside. So, we go to church every week, maybe even every day, and spout the right things whenever we are in public, but away from the public eye, we are mean-spirited individuals who gossip and slander and are generally rotten to everybody around us. If we want to know what kind of people we really are, let us ask our parents, spouses, and children.
I remember my wife telling me on a couple of occasions that I speak so beautifully about love but practice so little of it. It is not pleasant to be told something like that, especially when you pride yourself on walking the talk, but when I introspected, I realized she was right. The only choice after that is to continue as one is or try to change. I try my best to change. It is not always easy, but I know that the Holy Spirit is there to help me.
I want you to remember that, too, and seek his assistance when the going gets tough.
May the Spirit be with you.