2 March, Tuesday — My Inner Pharisee

Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent

Isa 1:10,16-20
Mt 23:1-12

“…since they do not practice what they preach.”.

The Pharisees and scribes have always been held out as the ‘villains’, or at least the negative examples, in the Gospels. Today’s passage is no exception; but Jesus does verify the accuracy of their teachings when He says “do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you”. Indeed, the Pharisees were well-versed in the Law of Moses and experts at interpreting it for the people, while the scribes served as secretaries to the Pharisees. They had spent years immersed in scripture and history. How then did they end up so entrenched in their ways and blind to Jesus’s teachings?

They might have started out with good intentions, but along the way had gone astray due to reasons such as pride, obstinacy, inertia or the desire for acknowledgment – reasons described by Jesus which are still very valid today. And although I don’t immediately identify with the Pharisees when going through scripture, passages such as today’s make me realise that my ‘inner Pharisee’ can still be pretty strong. It can emerge when I pass judgment on others, or am not willing to consider their perspectives, but it can also emerge in more insidious ways.

For instance, there have been seasons of Lent when I adopted practices related to fasting, prayer and almsgiving more out of an inclination to complete a check-list (for who?) than a desire to change. When masses were suspended last year, I embarked on a regular routine of prayer (eg. watching videos and/or saying 1 or 2 decades of the rosary every day) which initially felt fulfilling, but eventually seemed to become tasks I completed more for a sense of achievement — which didn’t really contribute to my spiritual growth and, more importantly, took up time that I could have spent helping out my own family.    

When I look back on these circumstances – my modern day versions of phylacteries and tassels — I realised that I started getting misguided when I focused on myself and my motivations more than the Lord and His love. This is probably why Jesus dwells on humility at the end of today’s reading. While our decisions and motivations are important (after all, we generally find something more meaningful if we choose to do it instead of being instructed to do it) it is just as important to remain constantly open to the Holy Spirit’s gentle prompting to question the reasons underlying what we do, even if our actions appear to be ‘holy’ on the surface. Hopefully then we can avoid the temptation of becoming like the hypocritical Pharisees in what we think, say or do, and keep in mind that we ‘have but one master, the Messiah.’

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jaclyn Lam)

Prayer: Lord, through your grace, grant us the wisdom and humility to discern how we may have gotten caught up in our own phylacteries. Help us to seek You with a sincere heart and to try our best to keep You at the centre of what we do.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for the richness of your teachings and how they can continually offer insights and guidance throughout our daily lives.

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