Why Was Jesus So Hard on the Pharisees?

2 Thes 1:1-5,11-12 / Mt 23:13-22

There are far too many things in this world that make absolutely no sense! Our newspapers and our daily conversations are filled with examples that utterly astonish us: The $600 toilet seats purchased by the Pentagon, the crazier aspects of our well-intentioned welfare programs, the follies of our local government, or perhaps even the foolish way our parish carnival gets organized.

It has always been so, as Jesus underscores in today’s gospel. And why is this? In Jesus’ day as well as in our own, the vested interests of the few become the engine that drives whole institutions into foolish extremes. Ceasing to think about God’s whole family and focusing solely upon oneself has two destructive consequences. The more obvious, of course, is that the family is injured. But further beneath the surface is the damage to the hearts of those who have turned inward and sought only themselves.

Jesus was unusually outspoken in addressing such hypocrites because they generally don’t even notice what they’re doing to others and to their own souls. That should set off some alarms in our own heads: Am I truly using God’s gifts for the good of the big family? Am I ever like the Pharisees, hiding behind the rules to advance my own interests at the cost of others, even the members of my own family? What exactly can I do to start changing this now?