Me a Pharisee?

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Mark 7:1-13

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.) So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother, and Whoever curses father or mother shall die. Yet you say, ‘If someone says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’ (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.”


Opening Prayer: Lord, bless me in this moment of prayer. Enlighten my mind so that I can see any spiritual blind spots or erroneous ways of thinking that might keep me from union with you. 


Encountering Christ:

  1. Teaching Authority: Jesus strongly objected to the Pharisees’ “teaching as doctrines human precepts.” He charged them with setting aside God’s commandments to “cling to human tradition.” Jesus’s anger was more than justified because these Pharisees had sorely abused the sacred teaching authority with which they had been entrusted. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus proclaimed seven “woes” over the Pharisees. The severity of Jesus’s words is a warning to anyone in our church, including the magisterium, the clergy, lay catechists, Catholic school teachers, or parents, who have been entrusted with teaching authority yet have “set aside God’s commandments” for any reason. As Jesus said in Matthew 18:6, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” 
  2. Setting Aside Commandments: Twice in these few verses Jesus accused the Pharisees of “setting aside commandments.” They had warped the truth over time by adding burdensome, legalistic rules to God’s commandments. We are all susceptible to the sin of “setting aside the commandments” or, in other words, of rationalizing to justify our behavior. As St. John Vianney said, “We will either accuse ourselves or excuse ourselves.” We can avoid the tendency to rationalize our sinfulness by seeking God’s truth in prayer, by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation honestly and sincerely, and by discerning God’s will with the help of a good spiritual director, as needed. 
  3. Many Such Things: Our Lord accused the Pharisees of nullifying the word of God often, in many different ways. While we may not consider ourselves pharisaical, we all commit “many such things” of one kind or another. The Catechism teaches us that one sin can lead to another: “Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin” (CCC 1863). May we say with St. Dominic Savio, “I beg you, let me die rather than be so unfortunate as to commit a single sin.”



Conversing with Christ: Lord, help me to see with your eyes the danger and evil of every sin, no matter how small. I want to draw close to you, not further away and I need to see clearly where I rationalize my sinfulness. Thank you for the grace of the sacraments which strengthen me so that I can more readily comply with your will for my life. 


Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will make a good examination of conscience in preparation for my next confession. 


For Further Reflection: CCC 1468: “The whole power of the sacrament of penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.” Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation “is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation.” Indeed the sacrament of reconciliation with God brings about a true “spiritual resurrection,” restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.


Written by Maribeth Harper.

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