In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus calls out the scribes and the Pharisees for being hypocrites and leading the people in the wrong way.
Of all the critiques that Jesus makes, I was struck by the ones Jesus makes about oaths: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated … If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’” Jesus points out how the Pharisees and the scribes put more importance on the material value of the gold and the gift than on the spiritual significance of the temple and the altar.
I see this as a great challenge for us today. We need to make sure that we don’t fall into the same trap that the Pharisees and the scribes did. At times we say that the church is to be “a leaven in the world,” but when we get caught up with material wealth, or when our political divisions seem to create divisions within the church, there is a danger of the world becoming a “leaven” in the church.
Our challenge, as always, has been to be in the world, but not of it. Wealth and resources are meant to be tools to help those in need and share the Good News, not as ends in themselves. And although we may differ on various issues, our differences need not separate us.
Perhaps it’s simply a matter of remembering Jesus’ commandment to love and to follow Him. That will always keep us in the proper perspective when it comes to the things and attitudes of the world. May we hold fast to Jesus’ words and follow Him in love.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.