Fr Paul Gooley reads today from the Gospel of Matthew (23: 1-12) in which Jesus warns his followers against hypocrisy advising them not to be like the scribes and Pharisees.

Fr Paul says, we hear in today’s Gospel, ‘they do not practice what they preach…’. This chapter of Matthews Gospel contains the worst of what Matthew has to say about the scribes and Pharisees. It introduces a sevenfold curse upon them.

The Pharisees were the group of the Jews that were most concerned about the exact observance of the Law of Moses. The ‘scribes’ were lawyers who the Pharisees could turn to 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 us to do, but the Pharisees and scribes attention to detail often made them lose sight of the real purpose of the Law.

Jesus was prepared to meet the Pharisees on their own ground and debate with them in their own terms. Remember that the Pharisees took no part in the condemnation and death of Jesus; the Sadducees, who were in charge of Jerusalem were his opponents.

Arguments 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 arguments, setting text against text, and the recognised rules of interpretation. Jesus 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. As Matthew warns, ‘they will flog you in their synagogues.’ One of their concerns was obviously the status of the religious leaders. It looks as though they were turning into little gods on their own. This was a danger in Judaism, where specialized interpreters of the Law were required and honoured; there were many rabbis in Israel.

Fr Paul invites us to reflect on today’s Gospel Lesson – rather than seeking greatness how can I serve others. How can I live a humble life?