The Pharisee Within: Thursday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time

Romans 8:31b-39; Luke 13:31-35

In the gospel we heard the Pharisees warn Jesus to leave town because Herod wanted to kill him. That was very nice of them! It leads us to believe that, even though they didn’t think Jesus was the Christ, he was still a fellow Jew; it was only right to see that he came to no harm. It was the brotherly thing to do.

Unless of course it wasn’t true.

Call me cynical but I think the Pharisees were fibbing. Why? I have three reasons. First, Luke has nothing good to say about them anywhere else; to them, Jesus was a nuisance to be disposed of. Second, Jesus had just publicly scolded them (Luke 11:37-54); they were very unlikely to be feeling all warm and brotherly toward him. Third, while it’s true that Luke doesn’t have anything good to say about Herod either, he does say that Herod wanted to meet Jesus for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign (Luke 23:8).

But then why would the Pharisees deceive Jesus? Perhaps it was to test his resolve or try and break it. Knowing from their previous interactions that they were no match for him (Luke 6:1-11; 11:37-54), using Herod’s name was a way to threaten Jesus, to frighten him into going away and possibly even abandoning his mission.

We would naturally condemn the Pharisees for that but before we do, we should look inside ourselves. Ask yourself: Have I ever wanted to do something I knew Jesus would condemn yet made the deliberate choice to do it anyway? Have I ever promised him that I would never do it again only to repeatedly break my word? Do I pray “Thy will be done” but try my best to see that my will is done?

The truth is, we all have a Pharisee within. At one time or another, in one way or another, we are less than fully honest with our Lord. We say things we don’t mean, make promises we can’t keep, and twist the truth about ourselves, all in a vain attempt to hide what he already knows we are: sinners in dire need of his mercy and healing grace.

The true wonder is that our Lord knows all this and loves us anyway, even unto death. After all, the gospel concludes with Jesus naming his executioners and it wasn’t Herod, it wasn’t Pilate, it wasn’t any one person. It was Jerusalem. Specifically, it was people who prayed for him, waited for his coming, followed his ministry, and greeted him at the city gates with shouts of Hosanna. These were the same people who shouted, “Crucify him!” Not just people like us. It was us. We have all crucified our Lord with our sins.

So we are not only the Pharisee; we are Jerusalem.

prodigal-son-3388599_640The psalmist today sings Save me O Lord in your mercy (Psalm 109:26). The readings are God’s answer to that prayer. In his infinite love and mercy he assures us that no matter how hypocritical we are, how much a Pharisee, or how much we deserve it, we are never alone. God is always true to his word and today his word is that there is nothing – neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature – that can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Praise be to God!

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