Today's Gospel passage includes two of what are called the “seven woes” – seven convincing and sad condemnations of religious hypocrisy that Jesus delivers rapid-fire to the disciples and the crowd. And it’s certainly hard to mistake His meaning.
Hypocrisy is not all that rare, and like most failings, it’s always easier to spot in others, isn’t it? And so we see it all around us. We see it in those people who appear to be so outwardly religious, but whose deeds and words lack any trace of kindness and mercy.
Because we love judging others we assume Jesus’ words were really addressed only to those nasty Pharisees. That would be a big mistake. Jesus was just using the Pharisees as an example because they were such obvious hypocrites. He wasn’t speaking just to the Pharisees; He was also speaking to His disciples and the people. He was speaking to us, warning us.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus came to call sinners – that’s you and me and the Pharisees -- but He came to call us to holiness. He expected His disciples to turn away from sin, not remain in it.
By issuing this call to us, Jesus makes it clear that some sins, like religious hypocrisy, have graver consequences. Why? Because it often leads others astray, even deeper into the darkness of sin. It can cause others to believe that it’s enough just to look religious, despite the evil one does in secret.
Jesus says, “No, don’t believe it!” And He says it loudly. Such people are no better than a tomb, all painted to look nice, but in reality just a cover for a corpse.
Let’s just forget about all those who come to mind when we think of hypocrisy. The real question is: What about me? What about you?
Jesus chastised the scribes and Pharisees for ignoring the high standards they demanded of others. How often are you and I like that? He chastised those who professed admiration for the prophets and yet opposed the prophets' message and closed their ears to the word of God. How many of us call ourselves Catholic and yet ignore the Church’s teachings on one or another moral issue? How many of us rewrite the Gospel to reflect our so-called lifestyle?
Like the Pharisees, we are called to change, to conversion of heart. They rejected Jesus and His message because their hearts were hardened to the voice of God. But don’t we do the same when we submerge the Gospel message beneath the cluttered mess of our own wants and desires? How did Chesterton put it? “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
Yes, we are called to conversion, to holiness. And we are called to humility, for only then can we accept God’s pardon and healing. How blessed we are that the Lord who judges is also a Lord who forgives.
The Holy Spirit will renew our minds and hearts; He’ll teach us God's way of love and holiness. Turn to Him and He will purify your heart. Invite Him in and He will give you the grace you need for real inner conversion.