Jesus’ rant against the Pharisees is painful to read no matter how many times we return to it. There seems to be no wiggle room whatever for the Pharisees. Jesus sounds full of rage at them and we wonder why. What we do know about the Pharisees is that they regularly sought “conversions” among observant Jews to their way of leading an authentic Jewish life. (1) They demanded that their “converts” eat properly tithed food and be ritually pure. However, there seems to be little evidence that a conversion of this kind affected the lives of the newly converted. In other words, conversion to phariseeism was more of an internal and personal experience of reform, but had little to do with the redoing of one’s entire life. Perhaps that is the source of Jesus’ anger.
In a contemporary setting, those of us who profess to be “practicing” Catholics might work very hard at keeping the laws of the church, rigorously observe the Sunday mass obligation, fast and abstain from meat during Lent, and contribute to the upkeep of the church by regular contributions, but rarely if ever make changes to our lives that help us to be more conformed to Christ and authentic witnesses of a gospel life.
Today's gospel challenges us to think about our personal and communal blindness. What is it as individuals and communities that we must reflect upon and change? Almost every Sunday I think about young people and young adults because I rarely see them in church. Are we too upset, too confused to acknowledge this? What do we need to do to attract young people to a faith filled life? I am not talking about changing the liturgy so that it might be more lively and attractive to them. I am thinking about what they catch from us who profess belief. Do they catch a passion for prayer, the poor, new immigrants, and those who feel isolated from the church for any reason?
Today I invite you to think about what others “catch” from us. Do others witness our compassion and understanding, and feel challenged to live a counter cultural life? Or do they simply see observant Christians whose faith seems not to affect their everyday lives?