REFLECTION: The new pharisaism PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 23 November 2014 14:44



In writing this column, I wish to make the caveat that the topic is meant to clarify matters and to warn us of certain dangers that we may not be aware of. It’s not to condemn anyone or any group, but simply to point out that there are occasions when we think we are doing right when in fact we are doing wrong in the eyes of God.

It’s also meant to figure out how we can identify and avoid these dangers, and what we can do to correct and make up if we have fallen into them.

Pharisaism, as the dictionary puts it, refers to the doctrines and practices of many of the Pharisees during the time of

Christ. They were almost invincibly convinced they were always right, basing that conviction simply on their traditions and their own interpretations of God’s laws.

When Christ finally came, they could not believe he was the Messiah since Christ did not jibe with their expectations as based on their own estimation of things. In fact, they were suspicious of him, always finding fault in him and finally managed to crucify him.

To be sure, not all Pharisees were like that. We can cite the example of Nicodemus who went to see Christ by night to ask for some clarifications and who helped bury Christ’s body. There must have been others like Nicodemus.

And so, we have to refrain from making blanket accusations against all Pharisees. By pharisaism, we simply refer to certain portions of the Pharisees who had the wrong attitude toward Christ and the things of God.

Their error was in the too literal interpretation of the religious and moral laws without due regard to the spirit of the laws. Such interpretation led them unavoidably to fall into hypocrisy, since the reality even of their own lives cannot cope with the very restrictive view of what they considered as right and wrong, good and evil.

In other words, they themselves could not keep up with their own standards, and yet made a show that they were all right. They would hardly admit their own mistakes and sinfulness. Such was the case that at one point Christ told the people that these leading men did not practice what they preached.

In other instances, Christ pointed out the contradictions and inconsistencies between their words and behavior, their observances and the all-too-obvious realities of life, like the question of the Sabbath day observance.

The justice of pharisaism has no room for mercy. Its mind-frame and lifestyle is prone to knee-jerk reactions, rash judgments and reckless, lynching condemnations, that precisely runs counter to the ways of God who is slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Its ways are often hardened along patterns of rigorism, legalism, traditionalism, fundamentalism. They have forms and structures but without the appropriate substance and spirit.

Pharisaism drips with sanctimoniousness and self-righteousness, a funny caricature of authentic holiness. It is an ugly bag of all violations of charity, often disguised as defense of justice and human rights.

It is a collection of false reasons and rationalizations not based on faith, hope and charity. It’s more interested in pursuing one’s self-interest than in a genuine concern for the common good, and much less, in giving glory to God. It thrives in an environment of gossips, rumor-mongering and mob rule.

We have to be most wary of the dangers of pharisaism that can come to us anytime and in very subtle ways. When in our pursuit for truth, justice and beauty, we become judgmental and rigid, less patient, understanding and merciful towards others, we can be sure we are falling into the hands of a new pharisaism.

When in our legitimate pursuit for greater knowledge, power and fame, we do not make the corresponding conversions of heart and are unwilling to suffer for others, this new pharisaism is setting in.

This new pharisaism usually leads one along the paths of conceit and self-satisfaction. It makes one simplistic in his views, ignoring the many legitimate nuances of the situations of people. The worst cut is that it deadens one’s sensitivity to have another conversion.

When progress in any aspect of our life is not accompanied by a growth in humility, openness and tolerance towards those of different views and opinions, when we cannot see our own faults and defects and yet are quick to see those of others, then we have basis to think we are in the grip of this new pharisaism.

But there’s always hope. God’s grace can strike us strongly anytime. We just have to pray!