In today’s Gospel reading, we Continue to hear Jesus’ criticisms of the Scribes and Pharisees. Today, Jesus says “Woe” to them because they focused on the minutiae of the Law while they “neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity.” He also criticized them for dealing only with the externals, and not looking at their own need of conversion on the inside: in their hearts and minds.
This critique of the Pharisees and the scribes are not so much meant for them, but as a warning to us, that we do not fall into the same trap. And as I reflected on this, I began to wonder whether the Pharisees and the scribes focused on the small things and the externals because they thought they could have some control over these things, or thought they could control others over these things.
I don’t think I am the first one to point this kind of thing out when we look at some of the similar things we do. We do need to attend to the weightier things that are behind the rules and commandments that we have in our church: judgment (discernment), and mercy and fidelity and justice and peace, and overall, love. But we need to let go of trying to control others, or even ourselves in the process. Instead, we need to surrender and put our trust in God’s love and grace and will for us. Then, with God’s grace, we can take the actions that lead us to our inner conversion. As those who work the 12 Steps say, “Do the actions and the thoughts will follow.”
May we not browbeat each other over the small things, but help lift each other up, letting God into our hearts and minds, to heal us and heal the world in Jesus Christ.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.