Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

Posté par diaconos le 31 octobre 2023

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Sermons against the scribes and Pharisees

# The Pharisees were a religious and political group of fervent Jews who, together with the Sadducees and the Essenes, emerged in Palestine during the Hasmonean period, around the middle of the 2nd century BC, in response to the Hellenisation desired by the authorities of the time.

Sermons against the scribes and Pharisees

The Pharisees were given the authority as successors of Moses. It was therefore agreed to obey their precepts, but one had to be careful not to follow their example, because they did not put into practice what they taught, but were content to burden others. Whatever they did, they did it to be noticed and praised by others. To the foolish vanity of the Pharisees, Jesus contrasts the humble attitude he prescribes to his disciples: let them not be called Rabbi, Father, Warden, for they are all equal before God; let the greatest among them be the servant of all; he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Jesus silenced his adversaries. He formulated their condemnation: this discourse was first addressed to the crowds and the disciples, whom Jesus wanted to protect from the spirit of the leaders of the people, then he targeted the latter, whose vices he unmasked and censured in a series of sharp apostrophes.Matthew is the only one to report this discourse; Mark and Luke only reported fragments of it, which they placed at other times as modern critics attribute to Matthew.

« It is very appropriate that at this moment Jesus expresses all his thoughts about his opponents » (De Wette). « This discourse is so full of life and unity that there is no doubt that it was delivered in this way, even though it perhaps contains some elements borrowed from other discourses of Jesus. » (Meyer) The chair of Moses refers to the activity and authority that Moses exercised as lawgiver and leader of the people. They sat on this chair as successors of the great servant of God. The rabbis used the same expression to say that one teacher succeeded another in teaching.

Because the men of this party had hitherto shown increasing hostility to Jesus, because they had resisted his warnings and planned to take over from him, he renounced all consideration for them and broke with them. The scribes, similar in every way to the Pharisees, had taken the same position. They were the sopherim of the Old Testament, the men of the books. In the Gospels they are called scribes, or legalists, or teachers of the law, because the main object of their studies was the law of Moses itself and its various applications to the life of the people.

Since this law was both religious and civil, the scribes were both theologians and legalists. They were often appointed with the Pharisees, because most of them belonged to that sect, or with the chief priests, whose advisors they were in the application of the law and in cases of conscience. The scribes always played a very active role in opposing Jesus. They spied on him, criticised his conduct and tried to surprise him with insidious questions. Most interpreters place several restrictions on this recommendation of Jesus, since the scribes and Pharisees could teach false things that, in this case, the disciples were neither to observe nor do.

Jesus assumed that they taught the Law of Moses from the pulpit where they sat. To bind burdens is a figurative expression that means : to gather into one body all the commandments of the law, with the innumerable and meticulous ceremonial prescriptions that the Pharisees had added to them, in order to demand their observance. These burdens, heavy and difficult to bear, where neither grace nor love helped to carry them, the Pharisees imposed them on others; but far from taking them upon themselves, they did not even stir them up with their finger. « And all their works they do to be seen of men; for they enlarge their phylacteries and lengthen the fringes of their garments ». (Mt 23, 5)

Jesus cited these details as examples of their vain and hypocritical desire to be seen by people. Phylacteries, still in use among Jews, are strips of parchment on which words of Scripture are written. During prayer they were attached to the left arm or forehead. This is why the Jews called these scrolls tephillim, prayers. « These objects were also given the superstitious idea of an amulet or talisman. They made them more narghile,’ Jesus said, ‘to be even more sure of being seen by the people. The fringes, a kind of tassel that the Jews wore on the edge of their cloaks, associated them with a religious idea. »

Rabbi means teacher or doctor. The title of father, understood in a spiritual moral sense, is higher than that of teacher and indicates a greater dependence on the person to whom it is attributed. If God alone is the Father of those whom he begets with his Spirit for a 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 persons, do nothing but deprive God and his Christ of the glory that is theirs. This is how parties and sects are born.

These signs of human flattery have entered the Christian Church just as they once did among the Jews. From humility to greatness, from humiliation to glory : this is the path to the kingdom of God, the path Jesus followed, the only one possible for his disciples. Addressing the scribes and Pharisees directly and shouting at them seven times: « Woe to you! » Jesus censures all the hypocrisy of their behaviour: the hypocrisy of their position as leaders of the people : they themselves did not enter the kingdom of heaven and closed it to others.

The hypocrisy of their behaviour made souls more certain to be lost. The hypocrisy of the casuistry they applied to oaths. The hypocrisy of their formalism, which observed the minutiae of the law and neglected the more important duties. The hypocrisy of cleaning the outside and leaving the inside dirty. All this hypocrisy made them like whitewashed sepulchres. It led them to build the sepulchres of the prophets. In painful accents, Jesus expressed the deep pity he felt for this Jerusalem that had killed the prophets.

He recalled the futile efforts he had made to draw her to himself; he announced her doom and told her that she would not see him again until the day she welcomed his return in glory.

Deacon Michel Houyoux

VideoWoodland Hills

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