Tuesday of the Second Week in Lent

Posté par diaconos le 2 mars 2021

They say and do not do

Ils disent et ne font pas – St-Jacques St-Christophe de la Villette

# The Pharisees are a religious and political group of fervent Jews who appeared together with the Sadducees and Essenes in Palestine during the Hasmonean period in the middle of the 2nd century BC, in response to the Hellenization intended by the authorities of the time. The initiator of the oral Torah, which prefigured rabbinism, this movement was part of Second Temple Judaism and influenced its evolution. It died out towards the end of the first century, and is known to us through various sources, the complexity of which has been highlighted by studies renewed since the end of the twentieth century.

The oldest evidence of the term « Pharisee » can be found in New Testamentary literature. The first, dated around 56-58, appears in the Epistle to the Philippians, written by Paul of Tarsus. The reconstruction of the Pharisees by Jewish exegesis was for a long time based on texts from different periods: the Mishna and Tosephta, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Babylonian Talmud. The rabbis most often used the term ‘hakhamîm’ to designate their  predecessors.

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From the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew

At that time, Jesus addressed the crowds and his disciples and said, « The scribes and Pharisees are teaching from the pulpit of Moses. So whatever they can tell you, do and observe it. But do not act according to their deeds, for they say and do not do.
They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and they put them on people’s shoulders ; but they themselves will not move them with their fingers. All their deeds they do in order to be noticed by people : they widen their phylacteries and lengthen their fringes; they like places of honour at dinners, seats of honour in synagogues and greetings in public squares; they like to receive from people the title of Rabbi.

For you, do not be given the title of Rabbi, for you have only one master to teach you, and you are all brothers. Give no one on earth the name of father, for you have only one Father, the Father in heaven. Neither be called teachers, for you have only one teacher, Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. He that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. » (Mt 23, 1-12)

Discourse against the scribes and Phariseesr their predecessors

Jesus spoke to the crowds and the disciples: he wanted to ward off the spirit of the main people, and then he took them directly to task, unmasking and censuring their vices in a series of lightning apostrophes. Matthew alone kept this discourse.

Mark and Luke only quoted a few fragments of it, which they placed in other places. As modern critics have attributed to Matthew the process of bringing together various words of Jesus in speeches followed by them, they did not fail to attribute the composition of this speech to him.

But : it is quite in the situation that at that moment Jesus expresses all his thoughts about his opponents. (De Wette). The whole speech is a single stream, and so full of life and unity that there is no doubt that it was pronounced in this way, although perhaps it contains some elements borrowed from other speeches of Jesus. (Meyer)

The pulpit of Moses refers to the activity and authority that Moses exercised as legislator and leader of the people : « The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood before him from morning till evening. « (Ex 18:13).  They sat in this pulpit as successors to the great servant of God. The rabbis used the same expression to say that one teacher succeeded another in his teaching.

As the men of this party became increasingly hostile towards Jesus, as they resisted his warnings and stopped the plan to take him, he renounced all consideration for them and openly broke with them. The scribes, just like the Pharisees, took the same position.

Their name means writers properly, and by extension, literate men, scholars in general : « Where is the wise man? where is the scribe? where is the reasoner of this century ? Has not God convinced the wisdom of the world of folly ? « (1 Cor 1, 20) These were the sopherim of the Old Testament, i.e. the men of the books.

In the Gospels they are called scribes, or legalists, or doctors of the law, because the main object of their studies was the law of Moses in itself and in its various applications to the life of the people. And since this law was both religious and civil law, the scribes were at the same time theologians and jurisconsults.

They were often appointed with the Pharisees, because most of them belonged to this sect, or with the chief priests, of whom they were advisers in the application of the law and in cases of conscience, or with the elders their colleagues in the Sanhedrin or higher council of the nation : « Likewise the chief priests mocked him with the scribes and elders, saying, ‘He saved others, and he cannot save himself ! « (Mt 27,41-22a)

The scribes always took a very active part in the opposition against Jesus. They spied on him, they blamed his conduct, they tried to surprise him with insidious questions : « One of them, a doctor of the Law, asked Jesus a question to test him: Teacher, in the Law, what is the great commandment?  « (Mt 22, 36-36).

Most of the interpreters made various restrictions to this recommendation of Jesus, since the scribes and Pharisees were able to teach false things which, in this case, the disciples should not keep or do. But Jesus did not make this distinction; he assumed that they taught the Law of Moses, in whose pulpit they sat.

Binding burdens is a figurative expression that means : to gather all the commandments of the law into one body, with the countless and meticulous ceremonial prescriptions that the Pharisees had added to them, in order to demand their observance. These burdens were heavy and difficult to bear, and where neither grace nor love helped to bear them, the Pharisees imposed them on others; but far from bearing them themselves, they did not even move them with their fingers.

Jesus cited these details as examples of their vain and hypocritical desire to be seen by men. The phylacteries, still in use among the Jews, are strips of parchment on which words of Scripture are written: during prayer they were tied to their left arm or forehead, based on « Now the cry of the children of Israel has come to me, and I have seen the oppression of the Egyptians. (Ex 3, 9)

They also attached to these objects the superstitious idea of an amulet or a talisman, because phylactery means condom. They enlarged them, Jesus said, so that they could be even more sure to be seen by men. As for the term « fringes », it refers to a kind of tassel that the Jews wore on the edge of their coats. At feasts, in synagogues, in public squares, wherever they were able to draw attention to themselves.

The title of father, taken in a spiritual moral sense, is even higher than that of master and indicates a greater dependence on the one to whom it is attributed. The reason for this defence is admirably expressed by this contrast: your Father on earth, your Father in heaven.

If God alone is the Father of those whom he begets by his Spirit for new life, Christ alone is the director of those whom he leads by his word and example into the ways of this new life. All these titles: master, father, director, when applied to men, only rob God and his Christ of the glory that belongs to them. This is how parties and sects were founded.

Deacon Michel Houyoux

Links to other Christian websites

◊ Catholic Exchange : click here to read the paper →  Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

◊ Association of catholic priests: click here to read the paper →   March 2, 2021. Tuesday of Week 2 of Lent

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

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