Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Molly CahillAugust 19, 2022
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

“Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.” (Mt 23:3)

No one wants to be like the scribes and Pharisees.

When Jesus talks about these people in the Gospels, it’s almost never in a positive light. In fact, they normally serve as a warning, as a teachable moment so we know what not to do. His words today in Matthew’s Gospel mostly follow that pattern, with one exception so slight you could easily miss it.

“Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you.” Sometimes, the scribes and Pharisees knew what they were talking about. They studied, interpreted and taught the law. Jesus might not have always agreed with them, but he’s at least encouraging his followers here to take their ideas seriously. His objection, though, isn’t to their philosophy itself but to the way they live it out. Or more accurately, the way they fail to do so. While you can listen to and engage with what they have to say, you better not start mimicking their behavior.

That disconnect between knowing and doing is often our downfall, and in Jesus’ time, it was no different.

We’re all more like the scribes and Pharisees than we’d like to be in this respect. Even when we know the truth about something and proclaim that truth out loud, we still struggle to do what we know is the right thing. That disconnect between knowing and doing is often our downfall, and in Jesus’ time, it was no different.

As people of faith, we run the risk of falling into this trap in a particular way. When we profess our belief in such specific truths, preaching can be dangerously enticing. And Matthew’s Gospel today is careful not to characterize preaching as all bad; we (and others) can get something out of it. It is, though, insufficient without a consistency that extends to our actions.

I’d love to be able to shake my head at the scribes and Pharisees, to be puzzled as to what could drive them to such spiritual hypocrisy and hollowness. But I’ve been the same way; after all, taking the leap from knowing to doing is really difficult when the one we’re emulating is Christ.

Next time I catch myself preaching, I’ll try to remember to close the gap with the all-important next step: practice.

More: Scripture

The latest from america

A man walks past a Marian mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Feb. 20, 2013. Data from the 2021 census showed 45.7% of respondents identified as Catholic or were brought up Catholic, compared with 43.5% identifying as Protestants, the first time in more than a century that Catholics outnumber Protestants. (CNS photo/Cathal McNaughton, Reuters)
Just below those top-line figures on religious affiliation, significant changes in national identity also become clear—29 percent of the Northern Irish population now see themselves exclusively as Irish. This is just three points behind the 32 percent who consider themselves British.
Kevin HargadenOctober 03, 2022
Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno, S.J., explained that the now officially recognized body “involves bishops, priests, women and men religious and the lay faithful from the nine countries of the Amazon region.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 03, 2022
One of the lesser-known facts about the story of the seven days of creation is that it was written in response to a disaster, and its comforts can be applicable even today.
Jim McDermottOctober 03, 2022
bishop georg bätzing sits in front of a microphone at the conference of the german bishops, he wears his priest clothing and is gesturing with his hands
The president of the German bishops' conference demanded an apology from a cardinal who seemed to compare the German Synodal Path with a Nazi ideology.
Catholic News ServiceOctober 03, 2022