Jesus said to the Pharisee, ‘Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the market-places. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.’
One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.’ And he said, ‘Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.’
Everyone likes the warm feeling of belonging. People go to extraordinary lengths to avoid being excluded and isolated from those with whom they live out their daily lives. Whether at work or in our leisure activities, we like to feel that we ‘fit in’, giving us that sense of belonging.
Sometimes we can only achieve that precious sense of belonging by making compromises. As we live out our complicated lives, lives in which we may seek a sense of belonging with a multiplicity of communities, we can easily find ourselves betraying one group and its ‘rules’ in order that we might fit in with a group that has conflicting priorities and expectations. As our social circle grows, and the complexity of our social interactions develop, we can easily find ourselves living our lives in compartments, compartments that are socially and ethically exclusive. It is when we live in this way that our compromises can quickly develop into the hypocrisy that is criticized by Jesus in today’s reading. It is when we compartmentalize our lives to this extent that we find ourselves betraying the most important relationship of all: our relationship with God.
Life is complicated. Every action and interaction presents us with a series of decisions that test our commitment to living the life of true discipleship. Today, Jesus is warning us about the additional complications with which we burden ourselves, the complications that arise when we weigh ourselves down with expectations and restrictions that do not come from God.
Everyone likes the warm feeling of belonging, but … to what lengths should we go to achieve the recognition and acceptance of those amongst whom we live?
Jesus warns us how easy it is to fall into the trap of being ‘seen’ as doing the ‘right’ thing, whilst really achieving the exact opposite. Jesus is telling us of the need to stand out in the crowd as one who is faithful to his teaching, even when that makes us different from those we want to accept us. Jesus is urging us to remain steadfast in living out the simple life of faith, the life which will see us pursuing justice, humility, love and service. These Christian values will make us different from those who focus primarily on maintaining the veneer of respectability, but they are the core values of our faith.
Let us pray for the strength to be different. Let us pray that our ‘difference’ might bring others into a closer relationship with God. Let us pray that our commitment to living a Christ-like life might make the community of faith the community others clamour to join.