Matthew 23:23-26 NRSVue
23“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
25“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and of the plate, so that the outside also may become clean.
“Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.”
Some thoughts on this scripture
Institutionalised religion always runs the risk of insincerity or in the worst case, hypocrisy, as salaried preachers have to match their behaviour to the principles of the faith. Interestingly the only people Jesus denounces in the Gospel are these Pharisees and their like. He accuses them of not understanding God because they don’t see the importance of the fundamentals: justice, mercy and faith.
Very often it takes one person to see and to state what is going wrong and to reset the priorities. Jesus does this again and again in his dealings with “sinners”: people whose behaviour runs contrary to the Jewish Law. He heals and he forgives sins where Pharisees and others rush to condemn and even destroy.
Pope Francis puts it so well: “Moreover, pastors and the lay faithful who accompany their brothers and sisters in faith or on a journey of openness to God must always re-member what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches quite clearly: 'Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors'. Consequently, without detracting from the evangelical ideal, they need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these pro¬gressively occur. I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best. A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties". (Evangelii Gaudium, IV 44)
When the gentle, loving Jesus raises his voice and blazes forth in anger, he makes me sit up and examine myself, look at the inside of the cup, at my concern for justice and mercy and faith, and at my tendency to greed and self-indulgence.
Lord, help me to see the dirt, and to clean myself on the inside.