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Wednesday, October 27th, 2021

Another Sort of Pharisee

For those who have a singularly sweet conception of who Jesus Christ is—especially in his relationships with other human beings—chapter eleven of St Luke’s Gospel presents a certain challenge. Our Lord’s invectives against the Pharisees and scholars of Mosaic law are especially stinging. The first thing for us to remember is that, to be sure, the woes which he pronounces against them are movements of love. Not every illness needs the same treatment; not every soul needs the same formation. Christ the Physician adapts to the needs of each.—It just so happens that the religious professionals of Israel needed some stiff remedies. 

One of the woes pronounced by Our Lord is of special interest: ‘Woe to you who build the monuments of the prophets; and your fathers killed them’ (Luke 11, 47).  

Here, the wild inconsistency of the religious climate is pointed out. Past generations slew the prophets out of murderous indocility. But future generations admire these same prophets, without any spiritual conversion having taken place in the meantime. For his part, Jesus Christ is in the same line of the prophets: but it goes without much saying that he earns no admiration and obedience from those who ought to have been the first to understand and to obey. 

There is a similar kind of pharisaism at work in our times among Catholics. We are speaking of the souls who were baptized as infants and who passed through the cursus of Catholic education; they were reared in families who have been Catholics for generations; and they are quick to make a boast of these credentials. And yet they hold moral or doctrinal positions that are fundamentally at odds with perennial Catholic teaching. The phenomenon is easily explainable; but we do well to see it for what it is: another sort of pharisaism.

Such people do not often critically evaluate what they believe or how they live. It is enough for them to believe that the adjective Catholic can be appended to their identities. But they are in the same tradition of the Pharisees. As St Luke records, the Pharisees could not see the fundamental inconsistency of their religious posture. Thus, the same pattern is repeated in our time. 

 


{Art Credit: Philippe de Champaigne, Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee, c 1656; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes.}

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