Jesus began to speak, first to his disciples, “Beware of the leaven — that is, the hypocrisy — of the Pharisees….”
We know well that the Pharisees generally were no great fans of Jesus. Here, Jesus accuses them of hypocrisy — a seemingly strange accusation. The Pharisees attracted a large following because they were the most observant Jews around then. They indeed practiced what they preached. They had added prescription after prescription to their observance of the law precisely to ensure they were faithful to God’s ordinances.
The hypocrisy here does not mean that they did not practice what they preached, but that the manner of their observance was such as to lead the people astray. They emphasized minute prescriptions (often of their own making) to the detriment of the inner spirit of what God wanted. External prescriptions could easily trump the love and mercy at the heart of God’s commandments.
Lest we point our fingers at the Pharisees for their teaching and practice, we should acknowledge that they were sincerely trying to lead a renewal program in Israel. (This is the main reason they opposed Jesus, who was doing the same thing, but whose understanding of renewal was quite different from theirs). Perhaps we need to point the finger at ourselves if we allow external observances to substitute for developing those virtues and qualities inculcated by Jesus. Did he not tell us to love others as he has loved us? Did he not tell us to forgive without limit, be merciful, generous, or treat others as God has treated us? We are reminded of these at every Mass — but only if we go beyond the externals.
How do we put the value system of Jesus into practice each day?
Let Us Pray:
O loving Jesus, help me to realize that we only please you when we imitate you. Grant me the grace to strive after those virtues that make me a mirror of your loving kindness to others.