Memorial of Saint John XXIII, pope
(Galatians 5:1-6; Luke 11:37-41)
Most of the Pharisees presented in the gospels are myopic. They scrutinize a person’s behavior for small items in the Law but fail to see the more important matters. Jesus levels this criticism against them in today’s gospel. One Pharisee is ready to criticize him for not performing a purification ritual which the Law does not even mandate. The Pharisee is oblivious, however, to the fact that such criticism goes against the Law’s requirement to love one’s neighbor.
An incident in the life of St. John XXIII indicates how pharisaic behavior can invada the Church. When he was a young priest, Angelo Roncalli, the future pope, taught Church history in a local seminary. At the time some Roman officials were so supercilious about maintaining orthodoxy that they suppressed faithful scholarship. Roncalli was reported to Rome for assigning a book that the pharisaic officials thought questionable. It turned out that the book became known as an important study of the early Church and Roncalli, of course, was recognized as a saint.
Frequent churchgoers must beware of pharisaic tendencies contaminating their spiritual lives. We can wonder why everyone does not do all that we do. We think that because we give up chocolate for Lent, everyone should. We must withhold judgment on these small items if we are to live up to St. Paul’s standard in the first reading: in Christ Jesus the only thing that counts is “faith working through love.”