Gospel Reflection Saturday 20th Week Ordinary Time (26 August) – Jesus walked his talk
Fr Paul reads from the Gospel of Matthew (23: 1-12) in which Jesus tells his followers to listen to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees and do what they say, but Jesus also notes, ‘do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach’. Fr Paul says this chapter (23), contains the fiercest of all the hard things which the Gospel of Matthew has to say about the scribes and Pharisees. It introduces a sevenfold curse upon them. The Pharisees were the party of Jews most concerned for the exact observance of the prescriptions of the Law of Moses. The ‘scribes’ were lawyers to whom they would turn in the case of a clash between two laws. It is good to follow laws and good to be able to work out what the laws are telling you to do, but their attention to detail and their fussiness often made them lose sight of the real purpose of the Law. However, Jesus was prepared to meet the Pharisees on their own ground and debate with them in their own terms. The Pharisees took no part in the condemnation and death of Jesus; they are simply not there in the narrative. His opponents in Jerusalem were the Sadducees, who were in charge of Jerusalem. Argument about legal observance is part of the Jewish way of life, even today, and the controversies in the story of Jesus could well have been in-house discussions about the interpretation of the Law, rather than hostile confrontations. He even used – and used brilliantly – the Pharisaic method of quoting the Law in argument, setting text against text, and the recognized rules of interpretation. He uses this technique to put the Law of love of neighbour on the very same level as love of God. In the Gospels, and especially in Matthew, written towards the end of the century, the hostility to this group has obviously become fiercer, no doubt because of their persecution of the followers of Jesus. Fr Paul notes in closing, the challenge to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel is reminding us to offer humble, faith-filled service to God and others.