Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
(I Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 23:23-26)
Matthew begins his description of the public ministry of Jesus with the Sermon on the Mount. In it Jesus utters the beatitudes, a word usually translated as blessed but may be rendered as happy. Now at the end of his ministry in Matthew Jesus delivers another sermon. This time, however, he announces not blessings but woes, seven of them as a matter of fact. The two of today’s gospel are found in the middle.
Jesus condemns the Pharisees for being fastidious about small things and permissive about large matters. He says they pay their tithes not only on the crops of grain but on the smallest herb in their garden. Meanwhile they overlook the need for justice and mercy. They are like the bankers on Wall Street who appear to be upstanding men but who created a financial crisis eight years ago that drove many people bankrupt. Then Jesus uses the analogy of a cup that is clean on the outside but putrid on the inside to further denounce the Pharisees. He is accusing them of unclean hearts even as they dress as righteous men.
Not all the Pharisees were hypocrites. Many, in fact, like the apostle Paul legitimately strove for goodness. But as religious movements become puritanical, hypocrisy finds substance to feed upon. We must take care that it does not happen to us. A daily examination of conscience and constant conversation with the Lord should keep us free of this contamination.