Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Performed to Be Seen

By Melanie Rigney

Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord; though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.  (Isaiah 1:18)

James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
“Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with your mouth, though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?” (Psalm 50:16-17)

“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.” (Matthew 23:2-4)

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

About ten years ago, I went to a penance service with a good friend. We cracked wise and giggled a bit during the goings-on, but grew quieter and quieter in line as we drew nearer to the priest, someone we both knew.

“I told him I feel like a Pharisee,” she shared later, just before we parted ways for the evening. “He told me I was no Pharisee, that I was a good person.”

I didn’t probe; after all, it was her confession to share or not share. But I was definitely in the priest’s camp; everything I knew of her was Christlike. And yet… these days, I get her point, and share her concern about my own intentions.

Here’s the thing: We can do all the right stuff: check off every single one of those corporal and spiritual works of mercy publicly each and every day. We can be regarded as living saints for our sacrifices. And yet… if we do it all to be seen, we are no better than the Pharisees. If we set ourselves up as paragons of virtue that people find it impossible to conceive of emulating, we are no better than the Pharisees. If we do it all, and judge those who aren’t carrying their burdens the way we have, do, or would, we are no better than the Pharisees.

In short, we can be good people on the outside, and still not only feel like Pharisees, but also be Pharisees. May we have the insight and strength to discern those instances where we are headed down that path… and set things aright.

What burden are you laying on another’s shoulders? Pray for ways you can lift off the load.

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