In our Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus advises the people to listen to the scribes and the Pharisees, to “do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but do not practice.” And then Jesus goes through all the things they do that the disciples should not do. For me, the greatest sin that Jesus mentions that the Pharisees and the scribes do is they “tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.” In others words, the scribes and Pharisees would continually point out to people what they were doing wrong, or how they needed to follow the Law of Moses, but would do nothing to help them.
Jesus’ words caution us not to do the same thing. We are not here to add to people’s burdens but to help them carry them. If we look at what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, how He lifted the burden of sin from us, and freed us from the burden of fear, our response cannot be to impose burdens on others. It is not our role to condemn, but to love. That is how Jesus has treated us!
We are called to help lift each other up. There is no need to exalt ourselves; no need to put others down so that we can feel better about who we are. At the Cross, there is no use for pretensions. And there is no need for them, either. In the words of the prophet Isaiah in our first reading, our sins have become “white as snow;” washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb! May we live according to the example of Jesus and be willing to be a servant to all.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.