Talk about pressure! The Scribes and the Pharisees were not terribly different than any of us. The one big difference, of course, was that they held positions of power and influence in matters of both religion and state. Most of us cannot say the same, though, if we are parents, we hold a very important position of power and influence in matters of ethics and morals, religious practice, and so on, with our children. Everything that Jesus said to the Scribes and Pharisees had a double purpose. He did not hesitate to call them out for their hypocrisy. When he did this he was showing us what hypocrisy looks like and how dangerous it is to our own souls. But Jesus was also trying to open the eyes of the Scribes and Pharisees to their own sins of hypocrisy, so that they might see them, repent, and turn back toward God.
Hypocrisy is a common reality among us. We are always quick to see it in others, but not so quick to see it within ourselves. All of us have been guilty of it at some time in our lives. We say one thing and do another. We tell others how they ought to behave, but do not behave so ourselves. Yes. I have done this. Thank God, someone who loved me made me aware of it and I felt the deep flush of embarrassment and the burn of shame. But it also raised a firm desire in me to never do such a thing again.
Jesus used the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees to show us what not to be like. Jesus was the exact opposite of the Scribes and the Pharisees for he was one who ʺwalked his talk,ʺ who ʺpracticed what he preached,ʺ perfectly. He warned them that though they were all pretty on the outside, like a whited sepulcher, they were rotting inside. Hypocrisy is a serious form of lying. It is an untruth covered over with the trappings of office, or beauty, and it is immediately dangerous to the soul. On the other hand, we see in Jesus the model of honesty. He is, after all, the Way, the Truth and the Life. We also see the reaction of the hypocritical Scribes and Pharisees to him. They had become so sure of their own importance and so blinded to their own hypocrisy that they heard Jesus’ admonitions only as insults, instead of recognizing the invitation to their own salvation that he was offering them. We do not want to be so caught up.
Life is difficult. The challenge to grow is before us all the time. And the challenge is not just for our own good, but it is also for the good of all those we encounter, or have responsibilities toward in our lives. Hypocrisy is common because it is easy. We put all the pressure of responsibility on the other, but take none of it for ourselves. But Jesus calls on us to grow up and he gives us, in his own words and deeds, the ways to do it. Yes, it is difficult to follow Jesus, rather than the dictates of our own heart’s desires. To follow in his ways means that we must let go of much that we have come to love falsely. But more than that it means that we must begin to take full responsibility for all that we say and do. And we must always try to do what is right, not just say it, even if it may cause us suffering.
How do we do this? Well, we cannot do it by sheer force of will alone. We need to turn humbly to God in prayer and ask Him for the graces that we need to continue walking in his ways every day. Jesus is our model. We know that he has called us to follow him, and that he has commanded us to live and to love as he did. It is not easy. It is a hard and serious work he has put before us, but he promises to walk with us every step of the way. And, even if we fall briefly, he will be there to pick us back up and to encourage us to continue the long and difficult pilgrimage to heaven. In the end, it is our attitude that is important. If we remain humble, recognizing our smallness in relation to Christ, and if we keep our eyes on him, we will not fail, for he will be our helper and our guide every step of the way. St. Francis of Assisi put it this way: ʺStart by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.ʺ