In our Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus has some harsh words for the scribes and Pharisees who are supposed to be leading the people in their relationship with God. Jesus calls them “frauds” because they were so consumed by the minutiae of the Mosaic Law that they neglected the “weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and good faith.” In other words, they neglected the things that could really help people in their relationship with God and with each other.
There are a few things that come to mind as we reflect on Jesus’ admonishment to the scribes and the Pharisees. One is the reminder to resist the temptation to focus on the shortcomings of the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus’ words are meant as a caution to us! So often we can be tempted to focus on the small stuff as a way to demonstrate our superiority over others, or as a way to avoid the real issues with which we need to grapple. There are so many challenges facing people today, and we need to explore ways to help them live their lives with integrity as we strive to do the same.
Another thing is to reflect on what Jesus means by being “frauds.” Jesus is not saying “Woe” to them because they fell short of perfection. We all do. If I am judged as being a fraud or a hypocrite because I haven’t perfectly followed Jesus, then, yes, I admit to being a fraud. But I don’t think falling short constitutes being a fraud. Jesus says “Woe” to the scribes and the Pharisees because they were so quick to condemn others for falling short.
Recognizing our own weaknesses and sins, we can’t condemn others for not being perfect. Instead, may we turn to God, who, in the words of our first reading from 2 Thessalonians, “loved us and in his mercy gave us eternal consolation and hope.” And may God console our “hearts and strengthen them for every good work and word.”
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.