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The devout and religious may be far from God

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is talking about the behaviour of the Pharisees towards the crowds and his disciples. They too are people at risk of behaving like Pharisees. Today, there is danger for Christians of becoming Pharisaic.
The Pharisee is a stereotypical character: he represents a way of thinking, judging and acting which is opposite to the gospel; the arguments and beliefs of the Pharisees infiltrate subtly among the disciples and are easily assimilated.
He is a Pharisee, first of all, who occupies another’s chair. Every synagogue had a teaching chair. It was called the chair of Moses from which every rabbi taught.
Jesus uses the image of this chair to outline the first negative characteristic of those belonging to the sect of the Pharisees: the abuse of authority.
The successors of Moses are the prophets. But eventually their place was illegally occupied by the scribes. Rabbis’ prescriptions and provisions were passed on as word and will of God.
There are those who today reduce the relationship with the Lord to compliance with applicable laws and precepts, who preach a legalism that stifles and takes away the joy of feeling always loved and welcomed by God. They are perpetuating the spirituality of the Pharisees.
The second characteristic of the Pharisee is highlighted as inconsistency. A Pharisee is anyone who presents as a devout person, speaks fine words about love, peace and respect of others, but cleverly avoids getting involved with these statements of principle.
The third characteristic of the Pharisees is the loading of unbearable burdens on the shoulders of the people. They reduce the faith and love of God to the practice of religion or observance of the precepts.
People are perpetually made insecure for fear of breaching a minute law. Such a fearful Jewish religion is represented by empty stone jars at Cana. They are joyless: No wine (John 2:1-11).
Those who today try to impose on people absurd and intolerable loads, who arbitrarily dictate rules, who are preoccupied with the minutiae which Jesus never mentioned, who filter out the gnat and swallow the camel (Matthew 23:24) behave as a Pharisee.
The fourth Pharisaical characteristic is exhibitionism, the desire to show off. This defect was deeply rooted. 
He called those who practice good deeds before people to be seen, those who pray standing in the synagogues and at the street corners to be noticed, those who fast with a melancholic air so that everyone is aware that they are mortifiedg (Matthew 6:1.5.16), hypocrites.
In today’s passage other tricks with which the Pharisees attempt to gain recognition are described: the places of honour at banquets, the chief seats in the synagogues, the widened stripes and the fringes of vestments used during prayer.
Today the desire to attract attention of the people can be having cameras trained on yourself to publicising your good deeds.
Jesus suggests an alternative life for the disciples: whoever makes himself great shall be humbled, and who ever humbles himself shall be made great.
• Father Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications